Zoom me in!
September 27, 2008 9:27 PM   Subscribe

How "zoom" is a 55-200mm zoom lens?

I have a Nikon camera with the standard 55-80mm kit lens. I take many pictures of ships in the bay and have been looking for a cheap zoom lens.

I stumbled across this Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR Zoom Nikkor Lens.

However, I (not being a photographer) do not really now how much zoom this lens gives. That is, how much "closer" will this lens get me?

Note: I am well aware how stupid this questions sounds.
posted by Spurious to Technology (14 answers total)
What camera? If the camera has a sensor crop factor, it could increase the effective focal length of any lens. I'll give a practical example: 200mm will give you a nice tight shot of an animal's whole body at the zoo; 300mm would get you a tight shot of just their head at around 20m.

Put another way: most consumer zoom lenses don't go far above 300mm (higher and they're likely to be an expensive prime lens). So it's about 60-70% as zoomy as the longest zooms you can get in the sub $500 price range.
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:42 PM on September 27, 2008

This is 80mm. From the same position, this is 200mm.
posted by 0xFCAF at 9:43 PM on September 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's actually not a stupid question at all - and it's also not quite intuitive. Increases of just five mm at the wide end make a huge difference; as you get farther out, that addition makes no meaningful change.

Canon has a focal length comparison from 15 up to 1200mm. It's probably set up for the view you'd get in a "full frame" camera like the Nikon D3 or Canon 5D/1Ds; if you have a non-pro level digital camera, multiply all the numbers by 1.5. (eg, the 85mm shot will approximate what 50mm looks like on a consumer dSLR). If you have a film camera, just take the numbers verbatim.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:43 PM on September 27, 2008

cowbelle, it's a DX lens, which implies that it's for a prosumer/consumer line of lenses.

Spurious, despite being a "stupid" question, it's a hard one to answer well. There's a couple of ways you can go about answering it. The first is to say "Zooms usually go as far out as 200-300 mm, and that's about as long as is useful or practical" ... 200 is the shorter end of the zoom scale, but will let you get nice close shots of a football play from in the first deck of the stands. 300mm will let you get good shots form the second deck. 400mm or 800mm is what you'll need from the press box way up at the top of the stadium.

You could also go google the mathematical calculations that will give you the actual field of view (in degrees) that it would cut your vision down to, or the number of times it would multiply your vision. But without being out in the middle of everything, it's hard to make that number mean anything.
posted by SpecialK at 9:47 PM on September 27, 2008

(Ya, I just looked at the price and figured it was just an entry level zoom. I don't understand your crazy nikon gobbledeegook... :P
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:59 PM on September 27, 2008

With a digital camera you'll probably have around a 1.5 crop factor, that means that your current 55-80mm lens is already acting like a 80-120mm.

Since the human eye pretty much sees what you'd see through a 50mm lens, you can easily work out the different zoom factors. E.g-- with your desired 200mm lense (300mm with crop factor included) an object that's 100m away will only seem about 19metres away with the lense fully zoomed in.
posted by Static Vagabond at 10:14 PM on September 27, 2008

Ken Rockwell has a lot to say about photography, esp. Nikon. I've found his lens reviews to be particularly enlightening. For example, here's his take on the exact lens you linked to.

Re: Nikon gobbledeegook, here's his handy translator. You're welcome. :)
posted by ZakDaddy at 11:31 PM on September 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to throw in that I have that exact lens and love it. It is very sharp and the color is great also. Definitely recommended.

I'd say that it will be plenty of zoom for almost everything. If you are taking photos of nature/bird shots you might need a 300 or 400.
posted by meta87 at 11:33 PM on September 27, 2008

You didn't say what camera, but the lens you indicate is a DX lens, which means it is not for a full frame (i.e. film) camera. It will work great on any Nikon DSLR except (with caveats) the D3 and D700.
posted by pjern at 12:38 AM on September 28, 2008

I've found these two images to be extremely helpful in understanding zoom:

posted by kdern at 6:25 AM on September 28, 2008

Just FYI, if your camera is a 35mm (not digital), that lens will not cover the full frame. The DX lenses are intended for digital SLRs with a DX sensor (which is about 24mm in size). On a 35mm film camera, the result would be something like this.
posted by knave at 9:16 AM on September 28, 2008

By the way, here's another cheap zoom for Nikon, that goes 70-300mm. I have the lens, and it is definitely pretty cool for daylight shots. It will struggle a little in darker settings, because of the small aperture. This lens does not have the AF-S autofocus motor in it, so it will not autofocus on a D40, if that's the Nikon you have (you'll have to do it manually).
posted by knave at 9:20 AM on September 28, 2008

You know there's something to be said for non-zoom (fixed) telephoto lenses. They generally have fewer interfaces, resulting in less chromatic aberration, wider f's, and better sharpness. If you're just trying to take pics of ships in the bay have you considered buying just a 200mm lens?
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:16 AM on September 28, 2008

I believe your kit lens is an 18-55mm, not 55-80mm.

To imagine what level of zoom you would have at the 200mm end of the 55-200mm lens, take one of your ship photos shot at the 55mm focal length. Imagine dividing the photo into fourths (3 dividing lines), both vertically and horizontally. Pick one of the rectangles and imagine that filling the entire viewfinder. That's what the view would be at the 200mm end.
posted by junesix at 12:08 PM on September 29, 2008

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