Best low-light lens for Nikon D80?
December 10, 2008 5:03 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for a lens for my Nikon D80 that works well in low-light conditions. Something relatively compact and not too expensive would be best.

I already own a 18-200mm VR lens, which is OK in low light, but not very compact.

I would obviously like my new lens to be useful in a range of situations, but I am more interested in the portrait to 10 metres range.

I do not own a flash unit and don't intend to buy one.

posted by bollockovnikov to Technology (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A 50mm 1.8 is around $100 on the used market. Among the most compact lenses made for Nikon. It also has a reputation for great sharpness.

An 85mm 1.8 would be about $300. It's a bit bigger, but still much smaller than your 18-200. More telephoto. Probably best for that 7-10 metre range. (Though the subject is still a bit far for that lens I'd think. If it's really that distance you're working with, a 105 might be they way to go. They're more expensive, probably beyond what you're looking to spend.)

There's a 35mm f2, slightly slower, about $200. Not a fantastic portrait lens.

F1.8 is two full stops faster than F3.5, which is where the 18-200 starts. That's a four times faster shutterspeed, say 1/250 instead of 1/60, or one quarter of iso. (i.e. if the shutter speed stays the same, your iso is 400 instead of 1600).
posted by thenormshow at 5:28 AM on December 10, 2008

A nifty fifty. The quality/price ratio cannot be beat.
posted by roshy at 6:03 AM on December 10, 2008

Best answer: Thirding the plastic fantastic. Everyone that I've recommended the 50mm 1.8 to (Canon and Nikon users alike) has fallen in love with it. If you have a bit more in your budget, the upgrade to a 50mm 1.4 is completely worth it. I never take mine off.
posted by mewithoutyou at 6:25 AM on December 10, 2008

If you're buying used, I highly advise using KEH Camera. They have the most reliable grading system for second-hand equipment of just about any dealer, including the biggies like Adorama and B&H.

Their navigation menu is a little crappy. Here is a list of their prime auto-focus Nikkor glass. You can get a 28mm f/2.8 for ~$125 or the 50mm f/1.8 for ~$100. If you want to spend another $100, you add the 24mm f/2.8 and the 85mm f/1.8 to the mix--the latter of which is one kick-ass, take-names lens.

I don't work for KEH, I'm just a satisfied customer.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:51 AM on December 10, 2008

Nthing the 50mm. Although now that I have a 24mm 2.8, I've been using the fifty less. Either way, you'll get the intended effect.
posted by riane at 8:33 AM on December 10, 2008

A good place to buy cheap/second hand in the UK (except ebay). I reckon I will get a 50mm 1.4
posted by 0bvious at 8:43 AM on December 10, 2008

Response by poster: I buckled and bought a 50mm 1.4D from a reputable Hong Kong seller. Including postage, to the UK, the lens was £189. Can't wait to use it. Thanks for your help!
posted by bollockovnikov at 9:18 AM on December 10, 2008

I've been asking myself whether the 50mm f1.4 is a worthy upgrade to the 50mm f1.8, but in image quality terms I understood it was slightly inferior across all stops to the f1.8. And it is only a stop faster, which with modern DSLRs' low noise and high sensitivity seems hard to justify.

If Ken Rockwell is to be believed, the gains to be made from a single stop on a Nikon DSLR, including the D80 are available at no cost elsewhere in the camera. Unless you find yourself metering precisely the conditions where that stop would gain you something, I'd guess the two lenses are essentially comparable in low light.
posted by galaksit at 10:53 AM on December 10, 2008

in image quality terms I understood it was slightly inferior across all stops to the f1.8

That's the commonly-held wisdom (I'm a subscriber to it, as well). Not to mention, your depth-of-field shooting f/1.4 at a subject 10 ft. away is 8 inches. At 5 ft., it's two inches. At the minimum focusing range of that lens, your DOF is 3mm! (Thanks, online depth-of-field calculator!)

But there's one really good excuse for the 50mm f/1.4: the fact that there isn't anything faster (or equally as fast) for anything near the same price. The extra cost over the f/1.8 might be worth it just to never have to say to yourself, "if I only had some faster glass..."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:22 AM on December 10, 2008

I've tended to buy and use 50/f1.4's over 50/f1.8's over the years only because some of my clients are easily impressed by the larger piece of glass on the front of the f/1.4's.

The real world percentage of photographers who legitimately need the extra speed or other optical characteristics of the faster lens is minuscule.

Optically and mechanically, virtually any Nikon 50/f1.8 or 50/f1.4 lens, current production or 30 years old, ever produced, is going to net you superior optical performance to your 18-200 (which is not a terrible lens at all).
posted by imjustsaying at 4:24 PM on December 10, 2008

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