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Nikon DSLR Lens Selection II:

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

Nikon DSLR Lens Selection II:


Forget everything I said before in all the other threads . . .


Throughout these Epicski photo threads, I've been revisiting my photographic interests, analyzing my needs, and re-thinking my photographic style. Looking at new tools, I've been attempting to divine the essential reconfiguration of my "optimum" standard lens kit. An AF-S upgrade was needed, a long VR tele was sorely missing, and some updates were in order. I purchased some new glass, returned some, and discovered some rather surprising data during my testing (that I'll share in subsequent posts here). I'm planning to shoot an all new portfolio, and already have a few specific photo series in mind, so I have a fairly specific set of requirements to meet.


Since I was lucky enough to find a mint-condition, now, discontinued, AF Nikkor 18mm f/2.8D on Ebay, I don't shoot with my AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8D anymore (plus, the fact that I dropped it, and it doesn't focus too easily anymore). Instead, I'm using my 18mm f/2.8 Nikkor (27mm-equivalent) as my all-around, wide-angle lens for landscape, scenic, editorial, etc. Thankfully, this lens is still decently sharp (more about this later), even when wide-open. Again, I was always on the short-end of my short zoom, so I figured, "Just get a short lens. Period."


Although, I'll still probably carry my old AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D in my bag somewhere (I just returned my new AF-S 50mm f/1.4G--more on that later), I'm absolutely in love with the idea of a new, improved, AF-S, VR version of the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 as my "long-normal," walk-around lens. I get a super-fast aperture, speedy AF-S, and shot-saving VR, all in my favorite focal length . . . 85mm. What more could I ask for? Oh wait . . . Nikon doesn't make this lens . .  yet.


Change that to an AF DC-Nikkor 105mm f/2.0D "defocus control" portrait lens, instead. Kinda speedy at f/2.0, which is a whole stop faster than f/2.8. But, since 105mm translates to a "kind of long," 157.5mm on a DX camera, that means I'm going to have to carry FOUR lenses around, not three, and tote along my 50mm f/1.4 "normal" around, too. Darn it. Was really trying to get this down to three lenses. To summarize, based on recent data, here's my new, improved, "standard" carry-around lens kit . . .


1. AF Nikkor 18mm f/2.8D wide-angle (discontinued).

2. AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D (enables full-length shots with bokeh).

3. AF DC-Nikkor 105mm f/2.0D defocus control medium-telephoto, the "ultimate" portrait lens.

4. AF VR Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED long tele-zoom.

5. AF Nikkor 300mm f/2.8D ED, the "ultimate" bikini lens (someday).


Almost bought an old AF Nikkor 300mm f/2.8D ED on Ebay a few days ago, but I was too cheap to actually win it (it sold for only $1,250--damnit!). So, instead, I'll have to resort to using my trusty 'ole 50mm f/1.4 to get "okay" bokeh on full-length shots. As for my Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8, besides being too soft wide-open, it's just too damned big and heavy to carry around anyway. And, although I would love a new AF-S VRII 80-200mm f/2.8G, I just can't justify the cost or the overlap with my new AF VR 80-400mm.


Since buying the new 80-400mm VR zoom, I believe that VR capability is now virtually an indispensable, "must-have" feature for any long lens. I've also found that I can completely manage without AF-S, but I don't think I'll ever buy another long lens without VR.


Of course, that's all changed, now that I've decided on the DC-Nikkor 105mm f/2.0, instead of the non-existent 85mm f/1.4 "VR." The DC-Nikkor is such a specialty lens, so acclaimed for doing things no other lens can do, I have no choice but to buy this new, non-VR, medium-tele lens, and break my own edict (unfortunately, Nikon doesn't make a VR 'DC' lens, and no one seems to be expecting them to do so anytime soon).



Edited by studio460 - 5/22/10 at 6:21am
post #2 of 14



Obviously, you take photography to a professional level, and are indeed a professional. So here is my question for your expertise:


I am a PENTAX fan simply because I can get a solid sub-$1,000 weatherproofed camera from them and they have some decent glass (some weatherproofed).  Right now I use www.photozone.de for lens reviews, and have found some nice inexpensive primes as a result. One was an absolute "steal" off eBay.   Are there other good lens review websites out there that you would recommend?


Thanks in advance...

post #3 of 14
Thread Starter 

Hey, quant!


Well, thanks for the accolade, but I'm not a professional still photographer--I shoot TV for a living. It's quite a different discipline, and although I started in stills, I have yet to master the craft at a professional level.


I see why people are gaining interest in the Pentax. As you stated, a weatherproofed camera for under a grand sounds pretty good. I'm only aware of the Nikon-specific reviewers and sites. For general photographic equipment reviews, dpreview.com is a very popular site, and generally a good source of information. For less-common Nikon lenses, I'll just Google it, and read whatever I can find, written by whomever may have written something about it. Try typing "Pentax forum" and you'll probably find a Pentax-specific forum somewhere out there.


Well, whaddya know . . . "The Largest Pentax-Dedicated Photography Forum:"




Good luck!

Edited by studio460 - 5/20/10 at 9:27am
post #4 of 14
Thread Starter 

I performed another round of lens tests last night and found my old Nikkor push-pull 80-200mm f/2.8D ED to be unacceptably soft wide-open. Even one- and two-stops down, it still just wasn't very "snappy." Again, forget everything I said before in the other threads. Stay away from non-camera mfr., branded lenses--they are generally softer (there are a few exceptions). If buying used, DO SHOOT TESTS before your return period ends. Even if buying new, do also shoot tests (I just returned a brand new Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G to B+H).


Going to try to trade the 80-200mm in this afternoon towards the purchase of that AF DC-Nikkor 105 f/2.0 to complete my "kit." Can't wait!


Here's another test shot from the AF VR Nikkor 80-400mm zoom:


400mm @ f/5.6


Nikon D90; NIkkor 80-400mm f4.5-5.6; 400mm @ f/5.6 [click image to view actual-size.]


[Note: although the image has been posted at full-resolution (click image to view full-screen), I've reduced the DPI from the default 300 dpi to a computer-screen resolution of 72 dpi (as I do with all images I post online). This both greatly reduces file size and minimizes loading times for the thread, yet still retains a visually equivalent resolution when viewed on a computer].


Edited by studio460 - 5/22/10 at 5:18am
post #5 of 14

so.... you like VR? Are these DX specific lenses that you are using?

post #6 of 14
Thread Starter 


Originally Posted by epic View Post

so.... you like VR? Are these DX specific lenses that you are using?

Since getting my new 80-400mm VR, I am in f'n LOVE with VR!!! After using my new VR lens, I don't wanna shoot anything without it! But, I will be sacrificing that feature in order to get the DC-Nikkor 105mm, which I've been dying to get for years. I actually don't own any DX lenses. Nothing against them, they're probably fine; plus, I think the weight/bulk savings with DX lenses is a good thing. In fact, if I didn't already own a huge pile of FX wide-angle lenses (Nikkor 14mm f/2.8, 18mm f/2.8, 20mm f/2.8, 24mm f/2.8, 35mm f/2.8), I would have definitely considered buying the fast f/2.8 DX wide-zoom instead.


Funny you should mention DX lenses, since I was just looking at those last night at B+H's site. For those that don't know, DX-lenses only work with x1.5-crop, DX-frame (APS-C) bodies, and will vignette on full-frame, FX-bodies. The AF-S DX 12-24mm f/4.0G sounds pretty sweet. Super-wide, constant aperture, plus AF-S. Perhaps even nicer is the AF-S DX 17-55mm f/2.8G since it's a whole stop faster, and also AF-S. Unfortunately, Nikon doesn't make a wide DX-zoom with both AF-S and VR except for their AF-S DX VR 18-200mm super-zoom, but, I'm not a huge fan of super-zooms.

Edited by studio460 - 5/22/10 at 5:21am
post #7 of 14

Excellent quality image - roughly what distance was it taken at?

post #8 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thanks! I was rather impressed myself! I think it was about 50 feet. I swear, this is one of the best lenses I own. Extremely sharp (sharper than many of my primes), excellent contrast, color-neutral--VIRTUALLY ZERO FLARE! Got really lucky with this copy.

Edited by studio460 - 5/21/10 at 7:27pm
post #9 of 14

I was just looking at the 80-400 today. It sure is tempting, but it it pretty big. Not sure I'd be willing to deal with it. Also I thought for such a big lens I'd expect it to be faster.


btw - what is "bokeh"? Does that mean "shallow depth of field"?

post #10 of 14
Thread Starter 



I must admit, I'm liking the 80-400mm VR zoom much more than I initially thought. I took out my Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 the other day to see if I still "liked it," but found it wasn't nearly as much fun as the 80-400mm VR, even though it's an excellent lens and very fast. Plus, I now find that VR on long lenses a REQUIREMENT for getting near-100% success rates on consistently acquiring razor-sharp images. VR is the single most impactful feature which has demonstrably improved the technical quality of my images, bar none.


[Edit: I moved the answers to your questions about shallow depth-of-field and bokeh to its own thread here.]


Edited by studio460 - 5/25/10 at 2:49am
post #11 of 14
Thread Starter 

"Ultimate" Nikkor Lens Kit II Re-cap:


Just to re-cap, if I had it to do all over again (and, if I didn't already own just about every wide-angle, fixed-focal length, Nikkor lens that Nikon already makes), here's the four Nikkor lenses I would get to make up my "ultimate" walk-around lens kit (for owners of DX-frame Nikon bodies):


1. Wide: AF-S DX Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8G or AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8D

2. Normal: AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G

3. Portrait: AF DC-Nikkor 105mm f/2.0D or AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D

4. Long tele-zoom: AF VR Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED


You're covered!

Between these four lenses, 99% of your creative options are covered. The only thing missing from this kit is a macro lens. Since most use macro lenses only on occasion, I would recommend either the AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 or the less-expensive, non-VR version.


Wide-angle: AF-S DX Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8G or AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8D

This DX-only, short-zoom provides excellent wide-angle coverage at a speedy, constant f/2.8. If you want to carry less glass, I would recommend substituting this zoom with the AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8D, instead. It's very compact, lightweight, wide, and just as fast. [Since my personal choice, the Nikkor 18mm f/2.8 is discontinued, I chose not to recommend it here, since it sells used for as much as $1,200 and up.]


Normal: AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G

While a real "normal" lens on a DX-body would actually be more like the AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G, the 50mm is still a great length on DX bodies for general-purpose photography. With its 75mm-equivalent focal length, a little extra length is often desirable anyway.


Medium-telephoto "portrait" lens: AF DC-Nikkor 105mm f/2.0D or AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D

It's a tough choice between these two excellent portrait-length lenses. Either lens is guaranteed to light your creative portraiture skills on fire. Though pricey, I highly recommend either of these super-creative tools as a valuable addition to your kit. If you love good "bokeh," then you're gonna love these lenses, as they're two of Nikon's most-favored lenses for their gorgeous, creamy-smooth bokeh. If on a budget, the AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 is a great value, and is also an excellent, medium-length lens in a decent speed.


Long-telephoto zoom: AF VR Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED

A great-performing lens at one-quarter the price of the Nikon's super-expensive, $6,000, AF-S VR 200-400mm f/4.0G, which is only one-stop faster, and a LOT bigger and heavier. At its long end, the VR 80-400mm has the same, super-long, 600mm-equivalent reach on a DX body, plus, excellent VR capability, and, despite common internet claims to the contrary, it actually focuses reasonably fast, once in-range.


A few additional comments about each lens category above . . .


Size matters:

I would personally opt for the lighter, smaller 20mm f/2.8 for use as a standard wide-angle over the short DX zoom. While the short-zoom is very appealing, the AF 20mm weighs only about a half a pound (0.58 lbs.), and is very compact, while the 18-55mm wide zoom weighs in at a rather hefty 1.6 lbs.


50mm--take your pick:

The older AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D actually focuses faster than its newer counterpart, the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G. It's also just as sharp. With the older 50mm, you get an aperture ring; with the new 'G' lens, you don't. The only reason to choose the new AF-S 50mm 'G' is perhaps for its rounded diaphragm blades, as opposed to the older lens' straight diaphragm blades. Rounded blades make for slightly smoother-looking bokeh. Another reason, is that some newer Nikon bodies will only work with newer, AF-S equipped lenses.


Unique, exotic 105DC? Or, legendary, super-fast 85mm f/1.4?

This is a tough call. I tried to demo both last Friday, but the store only had the 85mm to demo. Will get back to you on that.


Nikkor 80-400mm really not that big:

At first, it may appear "too big" to some, especially with the included lens hood attached. But, at its minimum focal length (with the hood on, reversed), it's actually fairly compact. Although it feels much less bulky than my 80-200mm f/2.8 zoom, it's about the same weight (heavy). Even though the 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR is a whole two-stops slower than my 80-200mm f/2.8, with the added focal length, you can often attain acceptable bokeh, even at f/5.6. Personally, I like this new 80-400mm VR lens so much, that I'm retiring my 80-200mm f/2.8, and now carrying the 80-400mm VR as my only long lens.


Edited by studio460 - 5/23/10 at 6:38am
post #12 of 14

I love my old nikkor 50mm and 105mm glass!



post #13 of 14

Just bought my wife the 50mm and 85mm 1.8 primes for her D80. I heard they are great values as long as you can get used to the whole prime/no-zoom thing. Looking forward to seeing what she can do with them.

post #14 of 14

If I can't use Zeiss or Cooke, I use Nikkor. Of course, I wouldn't turn my nose up at Leica either!

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