DSLR lens advice wanted
August 31, 2010 12:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to come up with a package of DSLR lenses that will cover 99% of my picture-taking requirements at the least cost. 18-200mm all-in-one or 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses?

I bought a Nikon D3000 a few weeks ago as a gift for my fiancee and I to take on our honeymoon. For outdoor photos of anything within 15 feet, the kit 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens is fine. For low light, or anything over 20 feet away that lens is lacking. I also plan to take photos of architecture, sports, and other events where I can't get as close as I would like to the subject. For example, I recently took photos at a wedding, and was sorely disappointed in the lack of zoom in the 18-55mm. So, after reading the dozens of other camera/dslr/lens threads, I've made up my mind to buy the 35mm f/1.8 prime lens for indoor/low light, portraits, kids, general use etc.

I'm a casual photographer where the 35mm prime will probably be great for 90% of the photos I take, but want to cover that other 10% as inexpensively as possible. Also, image stabilization is very important for me and my shaky hands.

Now, should I invest in the Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6, a Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3, or other? And is there any reason I should keep the 18-55mm kit lens once I buy the 35mm f/1.8?
posted by LouMac to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The 35mm prime is a great idea.

The zoom lens issue really comes down to, how much do you mind changing lenses? How often will you be photographing "live events" like weddings where things aren't really under your control?

Because 35mm + 55-200 basically covers anything, as long as you can move around a bit. But you don't want to be fiddling with changing lenses while the wedding goes on without you.

So 18-200 is a safe choice for something you can leave on your camera during events like that. All other quality factors aside, the number one requirement of taking a picture of something is you have to be able to get it in the frame at a decent size. It won't do great in low light, but fast zoom lenses cost a fortune.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:26 PM on August 31, 2010

And is there any reason I should keep the 18-55mm kit lens once I buy the 35mm f/1.8?

Speaking as someone with the equivalent Canon setup: Until very recently, the 18-55 at the wide end was the only meaningfully wide lens I had access to, thanks to crop sensor, and I ended up using it primarily for that. I probably shot half of an international vacation with the kit lens rather than the optically-superior longer primes I had with me.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:27 PM on August 31, 2010

(As a general rule, zoom lenses are needed in situations where you lack control. I use almost all prime lenses when shooting movies, because I choose the locations, and I tell everyone where to stand, and everyone waits for me to get into position. But at a wedding, you can't exactly stick your camera right in the bride's face. Thus, zoom lenses.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:29 PM on August 31, 2010

Best answer: I own Nikon's 18-200mm VR lens. That and a 50mm are the only two lenses I use and I can't recommend the combo highly enough. I started with an 18-55mm and a 55-200mm, but I found the process of constantly swapping lenses too annoying. So often, I wouldn't do it. I'd just make do with the lens I had on until I found a really compelling reason to swap... and then I'd shoot with the other lens until I had a reason to swap again. Eventually, I got tired of that routine. I bought the 18-200mm Nikon lens and I love it. Like I said, that and a 50mm prime and you're good to go!

Remember: every time you swap lenses, you're exposing the internals to dust, etc.

Also - there's a reason people refer to the 50mm lens as a Nifty Fifty. It's cheap, sharp and very versatile. When I got sick of hearing people recommending it I finally picked one up. I'm glad I did! Great bokeh. Great lens. And did I mention it's cheap?
posted by 2oh1 at 12:29 PM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have a Canon, so take with a grain of salt.

I have three lenses (besides the kit, which I never use)

- a Tamron 28-75mm f2.8
- a Canon 35mm f/2
- a Canon 50mm f/1.8

I used the 35mm every day until I got the Tamron, and now I haven't taken that one off my camera in months. My budget is pretty small, so if you can get something like that for the Nikon (I have no idea if the Tamron comes in a "Nikon version") I would highly recommend it. For me, the 35mm (and certainly the 50mm) isn't nearly wide enough for me, so it's nice to have the 28mm option, but it's also great to be able to zoom in with the 75mm end.
posted by pyjammy at 12:32 PM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

Between the two options you give, I would go with the 18-200 mm (even though it is slightly more expensive than the two-lens combo). The zoom range gives you the ability to not miss a shot, take the same shot with different perspective both of which are imperative to getting good pictures. Having said that, the prime lens is the way to go to become a better photographer. The 50mm or the 35mm are great in that regard. Also, telephoto zoom is overrated without a fixed or low aperture. I find that most things I want to shoot at 200mm or higher (like sports, wildlife) at f8.0 or higher (at 200mm, the 18-200 has a min aperture of f5.6, sharp at f8.0) requires me to have a shutter speed that does not freeze motion enough to make an acceptable photograph. ymmv.

I would start shooting with a prime and gradually try and add a mid-range zoom w/fixed aperture (28-70mm f2.8 or some such) or even a 85mm f1.8 prime.
posted by cusecase at 12:43 PM on August 31, 2010

Best answer: I've got the same setup you're proposing for my Nikon D5000: That Sigma 18-200 and the Nikon 35mm. I would have gone with the Nikon 55-200, but decided that I preferred the versatility for times I don't want to bring along a whole camera bag (which is pretty much any time that involves a family outing where I haven't set aside time to go off on my own to shoot).

I'm happy with the decision. When I'm carrying my whole bag, I bring the 18-55 along because I can and as a backup, but for occasions where taking pictures isn't the point, I'm happy to have the Sigma along as my sole lens. In my case, most of those situations are in decent outdoor lighting. The 35mm is for walking around the neighborhood and indoor photography.

Up until I got my Nikon, I had a Pentax K100d with a 50mm/1.4 and the 18-55 & 55-200 that came in a two lens kit. I loved the 50mm, but prefer the 35mm I have for the Nikon. Similar quality and just a little slower, but I prefer the extra width. I didn't like having to carry two consumer-grade lenses to cover 18-200 and I'm still new enough to my new setup that I remember to be grateful for having a single lens to cover that range.

I think that the advice about 50mm primes is fine but a little dated. With the crop factor they act a bit more like portrait lenses. 35mm is closer to normal width with the crop factor figured in. In the case of Nikon's consumer line, I'm pretty sure the 50mm won't autofocus with the D3000 or D5000. The 35mm will.
posted by mph at 1:29 PM on August 31, 2010

Best answer: No one can tell you what you need, because no one knows what you shoot. I would strongly recommend pointing a tool like Exif Analyzer at a smattering of sample images (or even all of them) to collect summary data on where most of your shots are on the focal length range.

Most people get something like a kit lens and end up spending 99% of their time at either end of their range. If you have a cropped sensor (the Nikon d3000 has a 1.5 crop factor) wide-angle isn't nearly wide-angle enough. 18mm, for instance, which is the "standard" lower-end wide-angle focal length on cropped lenses, is crap crap CRAP. What you really want is something like this (or this or this).

Anybody giving you standard advice recommending 50mm or 85mm lenses needs to have their head examined. A "normal" 50mm lens isn't normal on your 1.5 crop. You'll need a 35mm to achieve real normality. A 50mm lens on a 1.5 crop is almost a portrait lens. Similarly, a 85mm portrait lens is more like a 100mm telephoto.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:36 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just as many before, I'd recommend going for the 35mm 1.8 - which is pretty great - and an 18-200 as lens for cases that are less under your control.
I'd really consider saving up a bit extra and going for the Nikon one, which is far superior to the 18-200s from Sigma and Tamron.
posted by dominik at 2:11 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd vote for the 55-200vr. I've used that for a fair while before I switched to the longer 70-300VR as I spend a fair amount of time in zoos and wildlife parks. The 55-200VR is a very nice lens for the price, and it's lightweight, a good match to your camera in terms of size and balancing (I had a D40x). I've taken it around for hiking trails and holidays, held up very well. Just get a good shutter speed in broad daylight, together with VR it shines.

The 18-200 is really convenient though, and plenty of awesome shots have been taken with that lens. I've never used super zooms as I prefer switching lenses. I would suggest however, to look at the 18-200VR Nikkor vs the sigma as the nikkor is faster on the long end (5.6 VS 6.3) - plus being a nikkor it ensures perfect compatibility, and more light hopefully helps with the autofocus.

Definitely keep the 18-55 even if you have the 35/1.8, 18mm is a wide angle focal length on DX.

RE: 50mm prime. I see a recommendation but I do not think it will autofocus on your camera. Plus with the DX crop, it's about 75mm equiv field of view. Hardly a "normal" field of view. 35/1.8 AF-S is a nice normal-ish field of view, though personally I use a 24/2.8 for a wide normal on my dx camera. That's the way I like it :)

Enjoy your honeymoon!
posted by TrinsicWS at 2:31 PM on August 31, 2010

Best answer: I have the same setup as 2oh1. I recommend it too. IMO, the optical shortcomings of the 18-200 are far outweighed by the convenience of not having to swap out lenses and carry the extra lens.
posted by MillMan at 2:52 PM on August 31, 2010

OK, what you need is just two lenses. The 18-200 Nikon (faster than the Sigma at the longer end), and also the very affordable and excellent Sigma 28mm f/1.8 EX DG Aspherical Macro Large Aperture Wide Angle.

Why the 28mm Sigma rather than the 35mm Nikon or other Nikon primes? Because it is wider, and can do nice macro (if you like doing closeups of flowers, bugs etc., this lens is a lot of fun) for a price ($300-$350) that is hard to beat at that quality. It is also very fast at f/1.8.

Now, if you want to do any night photography, or low light or interiors go wide and go fast. You'll be better off on a cropped sensor going 28mm than 35mm for interiors. My wife uses this lens for all her interiors and it's brilliant - it gets shots you'd never get in a million years with the 18-200 (which is too slow).

This really covers you nicely. Outdoors, and with plenty of light, use the 18-200 Nikon VR, just slap it on and walk about (it also does reasonable macro). If you want more hardcore macro go to the 28mm Sigma. And once you are indoors, or the light outside dies, switch to the 28mm Sigma, and you'll be very, very happy.

I think these two lenses will cover everything you want at a reasonable price.
posted by VikingSword at 3:20 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Buy quality. The pain is quickly over, and you will grow to appreciate what it delivers for you. It would be sad if you spent a bunch of money on something which underwhelms.

Fallback position: Buy really cheap, planning to replace it asap. Bear in mind that just about any lens will be fine for happy snaps and for the memories.

I don't know Nikons, but remember that 'crop is your friend'. Too few people crop their photos to enhance them, and the big sensors allow plenty of scope for that.
posted by GeeEmm at 4:19 PM on August 31, 2010

Throwing in a vote for the Tamron AF18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC as a superzoom walkaround. It has rock-solid image stabilization, and is reasonably sharp throughout its range. Longer than the lenses you mentioned, and just as wide. It can be had for a reasonable price these days too, as I think Tamron has some rebates out.

I shoot Canon, so this is a link to a Canon-focused forum, but the thread is about the Tamron 18-270 with plenty of sample shots. Though (to my wife's chagrin), I own a menagerie of lenses, some 'L', I'm still partial to this Tamron when I want to carry only one.

I wonder if a 50mm prime, rather than the 35mm (or even something longer, space permitting) might be better for use as a portrait lens on a crop-sensored camera?
posted by theplatypus at 5:20 PM on August 31, 2010

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