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I have 3 zoom lenses, 2 Nikkors & a Tamron.

All except the 24-120 have the focus ring at the front of the lens, with the zoom ring nearer the body.

Is there any rhyme or reason the 24-120 should be made the other way round, with the focus ring nearest the body?

Honestly, I hope there's a good engineering reason, because it drives me scatty - the number of times I reach for the focus ring & change the length instead.

Looking through Nikon's lens line-up, it does seem to be fairly arbitrary.

Is it something you just get used to over time? Admittedly I've only had my camera a few months, but I've got most of the repertoire of actions [speed, aperture, ISO] into muscle memory; this one is failing me.

I shoot always in manual mode & for macro & still life shots often MF too.

  • Cannot tell you that there is an engineering reason because this seems completely arbitrary. Looking outside of Nikon lineup shows that other manufacturers vary this often too. I have a full lineup of Pentax lenses and have seen both orders. It seems like when the focus ring is small, they put it closer to the body, otherwise its the reverse. – Itai Feb 3 '17 at 14:32
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    @tetsujin Just wait until you try a Sigma lens on your Nikon and the zoom rings and focus rings are backwards to the direction you are used to turning them. – Michael C Feb 3 '17 at 14:56
  • It seems obvious that the placement of different lens elements and the mechanisms that move them determines the ordering of the focus and zoom rings, so I'm not sure what you're really asking here. Do you want to know about the specific optical formulae for those three lenses? – Caleb Feb 3 '17 at 15:14
  • @MichaelClark With Fujifilm's X series, there's a setting in the menu for which direction you want the focus ring to work. – mattdm Feb 3 '17 at 15:57
  • @Caleb - rather than assuming that everybody ought to find that obvious, why not make it an answer instead of what just comes over as a smart "I know better than you" remark? – Tetsujin Feb 3 '17 at 16:23
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Is there any rhyme or reason the 24-120 should be made the other way round, with the focus ring nearest the body?

If the focus and zoom rings are directly connected to the focus and zoom mechanisms inside the lens, as is the case for many lenses, then the relative placement of those mechanisms determines how the rings need to be placed in order to retain a full range of motion. And how those mechanisms are placed inside the lens is determined by the design choices that the manufacturer made in creating a lens which meets a set of goals.

That is, if the optical design places the lens group(s) involved in focussing in the rear of the lens and the zoom group(s) in the front, you cannot directly connect the rings that control them while placing the rings in the opposite order because they would interfere with each other or limit each other's range of motion to around 180°. Focus-by-wire allows the focus ring to be physically decoupled from the focus mechanism and therefore let it be placed either in front of or behind the zoom ring regardless of how the focus and zoom mechanisms are placed. Focus-by-wire has it's own tradeoffs, though: it's only possible if the lens (or body) has an autofocus motor; it's less reliable; it may add cost; it may be less appealing to customers.

Maintaining a consistent placement of the focus and zoom rings might be one of the considerations that goes into the design of a lens, but it's probably not high on the list of priorities. Much, much more important are considerations such as optical properties, ease of manufacture, reliability, and cost.

Looking through Nikon's lens line-up, it does seem to be fairly arbitrary.

Placement of the rings might appear arbitrary, but it's surely not capricious. Consistency in the order of the rings clearly just isn't as important as other design considerations.

Is it something you just get used to over time?

Sure, the more you use the lens, the more you'll get used to it. Consider slowing down a little bit and trying to be more purposeful in your actions. Some aspects of photography, like sports or fashion, benefit from lots of practice with specific gear in order shoot quickly. Macro and still life photography don't really fall into that category, though, so just give yourself an extra moment to look at what you're doing. That'll allow you to develop the right habits without frustration. Also, think about using touch rather than position as your guide -- most zoom lenses have a big, beefy zoom ring and a not-so-big focus ring, and the rubber texture on each is generally different.

I shoot always in manual mode

Assuming you mean manual focus, that's another thing you might want to reconsider. For macrophotography, a lot of the time you hardly use the focus ring at all, and instead focus by adjusting the camera's position using a focussing rail. And there's little reason beyond machismo to insist on only using manual focus; if speed is important to you, you should be practicing with autofocus as well because the camera can focus much faster and often more accurately than you can.

  • Re the last paragraph, "MF too" strongly suggests that OP means manual exposure, aperture, and ISO, although since they say they use MF for macro the point still stands. – Peter Taylor Feb 5 '17 at 6:51
  • Also re the last para, yes, MF for macro. I don't yet have a rail, so need to pull focus in 'slices' front to back. That's getting harder since I bought a set of extension tubes, so next is a rail. – Tetsujin Mar 13 '17 at 9:19

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