Well, I finally decided to take the plunge on a new lens for our upcoming cruise to Alaska. To be honest, I had been so consumed with the CFA exam that took place last week that I hadn’t even thought about the trip, or any camera equipment I may need. It wasn’t until at work, after the exam, that the trip came up in conversation with my boss, who exclaimed “Dude, you have to get a new lens!”.
He’s right, I suppose. It’s not every day you take a week off and cruise Alaska. You don’t want to be trying to take a landscape shot of a awesome glacier but not be able to fit it in the frame. Likewise you don’t want to be trying to zoom into a bear catching salmon but not have enough reach. I’m pretty new to photography and so don’t have an elaborate setup – I have a used Nikon D200, a Nikon 50mm prime (meaning fixed – no zoom), and a Tamron 28-75mm zoom lens. I like both of the lenses – they are fast and sharp. But, they don’t offer me the range at either the wide end, or the long end, that I’d like for the trip. To remedy that, my boss and I started talking about the well-rated Nikon 70-200mm. It’s a great lens, and would certainly give me the reach I’m looking for. However at 8.5in in length, 3.25 lbs in weight, and $1,895 in cold hard cash, it’s not quite for me. Of course, I could rent it for a couple of hundred dollars, but there are still a few issues: firstly, no one has them in stock to rent, and secondly, it’s still bigger and heavier than I’d like (besides, I can’t use it for long-range shots without a tripod).
In talking to my good friend Aaron, we decided that maybe the Nikon 18-200mm is a better fit. He has one, and he’s happy quite with it. It’ll solve many of my problems for a more affordable (though certainly not negligible) amount. The 18-200 gives me all the reach of the 70-200, but also gives my good coverage on the wide end. In addition, it’s much smaller and lighter, and can be had for about $700.
I picked one up over the weekend and played with it a bit. My initial impressions are that I like the reach of the lens, but other than that, I’m not an incredible fan. Before you read into this too much, I would like to clarify that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to do a lot of shooting with the lens – my comments are based purely on my initial impression from playing with the camera and taking a couple of shots.
The range of this lens is great (and is in fact what makes everyone rave about the lens so much). At 18mm on the wide end, it allows me to capture much more area in a landscape shot than my 28-75mm does. I wouldn’t have though that going from 28mm to 18mm would make a huge difference, but I couldn’t be more wrong. At a distance of about 8-10 feet, the 18mm gives me about 40% more coverage than the 28mm. At the long end, the 200mm gives much better reach than my 75mm, as expected. This lens is well rated because it takes very good photos (albeit not great photos as one would get from the $1,900 Nikon 70-200) and because of its versatility – a single lens covering 18 to 200mm, all in a manageable size. I certainly concur with the versatility part and hope to experience the very good photos on the upcoming cruise. Though the quality may not be as good as the 70-200, I’m not certain I can see the difference yet.
So, what made me give the “not an incredible fan” initial rating? Well, it’s a few things. Firstly, the lens doesn’t focus as fast as my Tamron. Granted this lens does a lot more (in terms of range, adding vibration reduction (VR), etc), it takes a tad longer to focus, which is hard to work with when you’re used to a faster focusing lens. Note, the difference isn’t huge, but it is large enough for me to notice. If one were using this lens without having a point of reference, they may not notice. Secondly the lens makes weird noises when focusing. Now this is the VR doing its thing to my benefit, but it still is odd and takes some getting used to. I turned off the VR and the noise was gone. Finally the zooming is a bit stiff and uneven. It’s stiffer than my Tamron, and is certainly uneven – it gets tighter as you get to around 120mm, and then loosens up again as you get to 200mm. Again, this isn’t earth-shattering, but it is something I noticed. The lens does not have any creep, so that’s good.
I’m pretty excited to try the lens on the trip. After the trip I’ll decide what I want to do – keep the Nikon and sell the Tamron, keep both, or return the Nikon. I’ll post pictures from the trip so you can see what the lens (or, more likely, the photographer) was able to do.