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Lens Dilemma

November 15th, 2009 1 comment

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: , ,

Nikon 18-200

June 15th, 2009 3 comments

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).

Nikon 18-200mm 3.5-5.6 AFS DX

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.

Categories: Photography Tags: , ,