Saturday, March 04, 2006

"IDEAL or REQUIRED" lenses for Nikon shooters?

There's always been a lot of talk in the Nikon fraternity about the trinity of lenses - meaning the trio of f2.8 lenses, namely the 17-35mm, 28-70mm and the 70-200mm VR. These cover the focal range of wide, normal and telephoto with supposedly superb sharpness and color but at nearly SGD$7000 aren't exactly cheap. I say supposedly since I dont own any of the trinities... :)

But frankly, these three lenses might not be the best at shooting in certain situations e.g. for macro, street shooting, birding and portrait shots. They are great for what can be classified as general purpose shooting, things like landscapes, holiday shots, family, sports and wedding shooting.

So what can be classified as a set of practical and "ideal" set of lenses for a Nikon user to cover almost any situation a photographer will face? Well, I can give you the standard reply that it "depends on what you shoot" but that would be copping out! I will simply make the assumption that you are like me - an amateur shooter - someone who takes pictures of a wide spectrum of subjects - and just wants to be prepared for any occasion. I will also make the assumption that most people do shoot both film and digital and that you DO have a budget! As a result, I have attempted to choose lenses with a budget of about five thousand Singapore dollars. Now that may seem a lot, but it will be approximately be the price of a decent Nikon DSLR (I recommend the D70s, if you can afford it the D200), film SLR (I recommend the the F100 whole-heartily). I have focussed (pardon the pun) on AF lenses and will save the AIS lenses for another post...

Wide lenses (for going wide)
  • Nikon 12-24mm DX F4. This would be the most expensive lens in the arsenal and to me is the essential choice to cover the wide angle if you are using a digital SLR with a 1.5x crop of a 35mm frame. Some people might say that the 17-55mm would be a better choice but since 17mm is hardly wide enough (25mm in 35mm terms) and this lens is much more expensive than the 12-24 (around SGD$2,000 when I last checked), I hesitate to recommend it. I use the 12-24 frequently whenever I travel, because it can capture such dramatic landscapes, and to a lesser extent for parties, weddings and gatherings). Costs around SGD$1375.
  • Nikon 20mm F2.8. The 12-24 lens is great choice for your digital body, but what about your full frame film body? To get the 17-35mm would be overkill; such a short range and at more than SGD$2000 it would blow most people's budgets in a hurry! C'mon, we all know a plasma TV would get more use than this lens! The MOST I would ever spend on a lens is SGD$1500 and that would be stretching it. As such, I would heartily recommend the 20mm Nikkor. Much lighter than the trinity zooms and 20mm is plenty wide enough for most people. Costs around SGD$700.

Normal lenses (for going fast and simple)

  • Nikon 50mm F1.8. This lens is a no-brainer, doing double duty for both digital/film and can be used as a portrait lens or a great walkabout lens. Sharp too with nice bokeh at large apetures! For a low light lens, it has no parallel except for its F1.4 brother ($$$) and the 85mm F1.4 ($$$$$+). Cheap, light and you wont even know it was in front of your cam. Focusses fast too. Costs around SGD$160.

Mid-range Zoom (all-purpose/travelling lens)

  • Nikon 18-70mm DX F3.5-4.5. Now most people would tell me to get the 18-200mm DX VR. That is an attractive option but at more than SGD$1200 it is a lens that is a wee bit overpriced. After all, a mid range lens is supposed to be reasonably cheap! This lens is actually a super underpriced lens that performs very well for digital SLRs for travelling and all purpose shooting. This is a lens that I recommend getting used since so many people are letting it go at outrageous prices! Available for around SGD$250 used. Recommended for shooting in areas that arent so "safe". However, never mind if u lose it, you can pick another up easily at a steal.
  • Nikon 24-120mm VR F3.5-5.6. This lens has been slammed repeatedly by many people for being "not sharp". Many of these people have never even used this lens. In my informal tests using my 24mm, 50mm and 105mm lenses, I can see no significant differences between these primes and the 24-120mm. Face it, the 24-120mm range is ideal in a single lens especially for film users. Other alternatives most people mention are the are the 28-105mm and 24-85mm (color reproduction for the Japan version of this lens is fantastic though), which are good choices but with no significant advantages over the 24-120mm. Great for both digital and film use and again, I recommend that you get this used at around SGD$600-700.

Telephoto lenses

  • Nikon 80-200mm F2.8. This lens is another no-brainer. Excellent photo quality and can be used for general sports photography, landscapes and for portraits. The only reason not to get this lens is because of its weight (about 1.5kg) and size. But unless you are going somewhere that has stuff like whale watching on the agenda, the 200mm reach will not be needed much. I guarantee that you WILL NOT bring this on your travels unless the trip is purely for photography. You can get this for around SGD$1350 new.
  • Nikon 105mm F2.8 Micro. This is one of my most favorite of lenses and a must have in my opinion in any Nikon shooter's bags. Great for double duty as a macro lens for all those excellent eBay product shots and also for portraits - don't believe what you hear about this lens being too sharp for portraits... what are these people saying, are they nuts? These people are dumb pixel watchers and silly nit-pickers... Get it new for about SGD$800.

In total, these lenses will bust the budget slightly at around SGD$5300+ but it will serve you well until your wallet recovers. For people with larger wallets, you might consider adding a 85mm F1.8 or a 300mm f4 lens (for birding). After all, you do need to save up for that fancy Gitzo CF tripod with Markins ballhead right??! :)