Home > Photography > Lens Dilemma

Lens Dilemma

November 15th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

With the holidays just around the corner, we’ve got some travelling and family visits coming up. Along with lots of hugs, laughter, conversation, and everything else that comes with visiting family, there’ll be lots of picture taking. Besides family moments, I’m hoping to capture scenic shots too. To make the most of this time, I’ve spent the last week or so painfully contemplating lenses and my “kit”.

Right now I only have two lenses: the Nikon f/1.8 50mm and the Tamron f/2.8 28-75mm. Both are good lenses. The Nikon does great in low light but doesn’t have zoom. The Tamron does well in low light as well and zooms, but leaves me asking for more at both the wide end and the long end. While visiting Alaska earlier this year, I used the Nikon f/3.5-5.6 18-200mm, which I thought was okay, but not stellar. The range on the 18-200 is certainly great – it’s very versatile, allowing for landscape and good reach without having to change lenses. As I reviewed my Alaska pictures I realized they’re good, but not great. I’d love a lens with more sharpness.

So, the first lens I thought about was the Nikon f/2.8 70-200mm. This lens is a legend – everyone that’s used it says great things. It’s a must have for all serious photographers, and is so high in demand it’s very hard to find. It’s a big lens so I wanted to get a feel for its size and weight when on my D200, but I couldn’t find a single lens for sale anywhere in the Chicago area. Though not New York, Chicago is a big city and if I can’t find it here, I’ll be hard pressed to find it anywhere in the Midwest! I did end up finding the Tamron version of the same lens. It’s an inch shorter and about a pound lighter than the Nikon, but since I can’t get my hands on a Nikon, it’s the best alternative to put on the camera to get a feel for. The lens is certainly big – it’s manageable without the hood, but once the hood goes on (which I would always do), the lens is very big. It’d be a little hard to wield in tight places and would require me to get a new bag too. The focusing on the lens is very fast and it feels great in my hands.

Even though the 70-200 is a beast, I really wanted to get one to try it. It has so many rave reviews and I figure that I won’t get the chance every day to take it travelling. There are only two setbacks: 1) it’s hard to find, and, when found online, a new one will cost about $2,000 (there’s the new VRII version that’ll be out in a few weeks for $2,400), and 2) this lens won’t give me the complete range I’m looking for – I’ll still have to augment with another lens for the wide end. The first issue is the price – I’d love to give it a shot, but $2,400 is certainly out of my budget, and $2,000 is quite a stretch too. It seems as if a well-cared for used lens can be had for about $1,500ish online, which is better. While playing with the Tamron “equivalent”, I asked the price on that – $650. That’s quite a difference! I read review and people are saying that the Tamron is almost optically equivalent to the Nikon. It’s missing the solid build quality and the VR. As much as I’d love to get the Nikon, I certainly took the new one off the table and placed a used one just behind a new Tamron (heck, the used Nikon is still more than twice the price of a new Tamron).

Don’t forget, this lens is bigger so I’d need a new bag. There are some nice ones from Thinktank, but that’ll cost me another $200.

Now, I need something for the wide end. I thought I’d start with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8that I’ve heard good things about. A quick price check: about $1,800! Heck, I was struggling with one Nikon 70-200mm, now I’d have to spend near the same amount for another lens. Regardless, I decided that I don’t need the Nikon 24-70 since that overlaps much of the range my existing Tamron has. Besides, based on my use of the 18-200 in Alaska, I’d like something a little wider then 24mm – maybe 17mm to 20mm? I looked at some shots at 10mm and think that’d be a bit much for me. So, which lens did I look at next? The Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8. This lens is more manageable in size than the 24-70 and gives me more of the range I’m looking for. This, along with my existing Tamron and some version of the 70-200 would give me everything I need. A quick price check for the 17-35: also about $1,800! Wow! Next stop: maybe I don’t need a zoom at the wide end. Maybe a prime would work and would cost a lot less. How about the Nikon 20mm f/2.8? Price check: about $550. This is much more affordable than the wide zooms, so maybe this would work? Let’s look at the options:

  1. New Nikon 70-200 + Nikon 20 + new bag = $2,000 + $550 + $200 = $2,750 (about $3K with tax)
  2. Used Nikon 70-200 + Nikon 20 + new bag = $1,550 + $550 + $200 = $2,300 (about $2.5K with tax)
  3. New Tamron 70-200 + Nikon 20 + new bag = $650 + $550 + $200 = $1,300 (about $1.5K with tax)

At the end of the day, any of these combinations will result in my having to switch lenses quite a bit. Basically any time I want to shoot a landscape or a large group of people without having to cross the street I’ll have to take off the 70-200 and put on the prime. With a small lens that may be easy, but to do that with the beast that the 70-200 is seems like it may be tough. Professional photographers that use the 70-200 will likely have a second body mated to a wide lens so the don’t have to switch lenses, but rather just switch cameras. I’m certainly not there. Besides, even then, my wide would be a prime, giving me very little flexibility in framing the picture in terms of focal length. Call me lazy, but I strongly prefer having the ability to zoom so I don’t have to walk back and forth to frame a picture.

So, after hours of analysis and wishing and wanting, I think I’m going to come back to the same place I was 5-6 months ago: the Nikon 18-200. It may not take “great” pictures, but the versatility and cost (about $850, new) make it a winner. There’s something to be said for the ability to switch from 200mm to 18mm while walking down the street without having to switch lenses. Yes, I wish I had a 70-200, but without shelling out for that and the 17-35, there are just too many issues against it. If only money were an unlimited resource!!

So, I’ll order the 18-200 and hopefully have it before Thanksgiving – just in the nick of time!

Categories: Photography Tags: , ,
  1. Adam McCrea
    November 19th, 2009 at 17:41 | #1

    Hilarious! You’re as obsessive as Aaron, if not more. I love it! These are tough decisions, though. We’re certainly not talking about small chunks of change, so I understand where you’re coming from.

    I’m still pretty happy with my 18-200, but I’m also not willing to spend the kind of cash you were considering. One thing I’d still love is something with a bit more versatility than my 50mm that can handle low light conditions. Neither of my two lenses perform very well in the frequent indoor-family-gathering-type scenario. It sounds like you might already have that in your Tamron. I’d be curious to check that one out.

  1. No trackbacks yet.