Smallest VR / IS prime lens for Nikon?
October 17, 2010 11:41 AM   Subscribe

What is the smallest Nikon (or compatible) image-stabilization lens? My search results seem to indicate it is this: Nikon 18mm - 55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX (VR) Vibration Reduction Wide Angle Autofocus Zoom Lens, which is a VR version of the kit lens on a D40.

I have a D40, and I like it OK, but have used full-size Nikons in the past. There is a likelihood that I will eventually trade up. The d40 lacks on-board image stabilization. I hate shooting anything but available light, so the kit lens has been quite frustrating for me.

My ideal lens for the camera would be one that I can open up just huge and which applies image stabilization if I want it. I am totally uninterested in zoom for this lens; I have a VR 55mm-200mm zoom that meets my needs, and of course the kit lens.

Since I have found the kit lens to be lacking (it won't open up as much as I'd like), I'd prefer to find a different - and physically smaller - lens.

Finally, I don't care about autofocus for this lens either. I rarely use it on the other two lenses; I feel like I am fighting with the camera whenever I leave it on. My survey of the available stuff seems to indicate that in general manufacturers and the public view AF as the most important manual override feature with IS coming in second. I further suspect that the physical size requirements of the mechanisms govern the smallest lens which offers them, apparently that 18mm-55mm lens linked above.

Am I SOL? Is there a small lens, no AF, big aperture, that incorporates VR for Nikon?

I should note there is a relatively recent, somewhat related question:

DSLR lens advice wanted

However, while the poster asked specifically for image-stabilization on the primes, the ones suggested generally do not appear to offer it, unless I misread what I examined.
posted by mwhybark to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Some notes:

Each of these lenses would be great if they incorporated image-stabilization:

Nikon 50mm f/1.4G SIC SW Prime Nikkor Lens

Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor Lens

Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX Lens
posted by mwhybark at 11:48 AM on October 17, 2010

Nikon has a page for filtering lenses. VR primes seem to be either telephoto lenses, or macro lenses, by the looks of things.

(What do you mean when you say the lens doesn't open up as much as you'd like? do you want a wider aperture, or a wider zoom angle from it?)
posted by ambilevous at 12:44 PM on October 17, 2010

The thing about VR is that it only really gets you two stops, and doesn't stop motion so if you have a wide aperture prime lens, VR isn't really needed. Especially on the newer cameras where ISO1600 is decent. One problem you'll run into with the D40 is that a lot of the Nikon primes aren't AF-S, so won't autofocus with camera bodies that don't have the AF motor.

Like you, I have long had a strong dislike of flash. I've come to realize, however, that the problem isn't flash, the problem is bad flash. An SB-600 mounted in the hotshoe and bounced off the ceiling will light up a scene in a very natural looking way in all but very large rooms. Don't hate the flash, hate the photographer.
posted by wierdo at 12:56 PM on October 17, 2010

Get the 35mm or 50mm primes! You really don't need VR for most shots with a lens that fast (large aperture). Blur is a random event, so put the shutter release into continuous mode and quickly snap multiple shots; chances are good that at least some of them will come out. The primes are also teeny tiny lenses, which sounds like exactly what you want.

The D40 is really quite acceptable at high iso settings, so don't be afraid to crank it up to 1600 if you need it.
posted by zachlipton at 2:41 PM on October 17, 2010

With the advent of VR technology, along with a whole generation of p&s cameras without conventional viewfinders (necessitating shooting with the camera at a distance from one's body), nobody ever talks about holding the camera still, bracing up your body, and gently squeezing the shutter release any more.

Back in the day, those of us who were able to brag of such things as shooting 1/4 second exposures "hand held" were revered as gods among our fellow photographers.

Before you dump even a nickle into more hardware, practice good shooting technique.

It will cost you nothing and benefit you even if you do eventually get a new lens.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:06 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

ambilevous: "(What do you mean when you say the lens doesn't open up as much as you'd like? do you want a wider aperture, or a wider zoom angle from it?)"

Aperture. The cited primes all have 1.x where the kit lens tops out at 3.x.

Thanks all, that's helpful, if not what I wanted to hear.
posted by mwhybark at 4:20 PM on October 17, 2010

Bokeh is nice, but you really don't need tons of glass any more these days if you're just trying to shoot in low-light. Get any modern pro-level Nikon and push the ISO to (totally usable 3200) and you can just shoot at f/3.5-5.6 or whatever crap Nikon's got in their VR line-up.

But remember, "small" and "fast" do not mix. If you want big apertures, prepare to haul big glass. Optics is a bitch.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:01 PM on October 17, 2010

Oh, and to answer the question, I believe the fastest VR is the ultra-sexy f/2 200mm.

It's also the size of a Buick.

It's also the price of a Buick.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:03 PM on October 17, 2010

Oooh, the f/2 200 is a great lens! Just need to sell my car now.

I'm also giving the advice on the small f/ 24, 35, or 50mm lens. You will be pleasantly surprised what light levels you can shoot at, and your pictures will turn out better than a VR lens! Also, seconding learning how to use a flash properly. The dinky pop-up, forward facing flash is perfect for those ugly flash shots, but a nicely diffused and / or bounced flash will do wonders for your pictures!

I like reading strobist for advice as well on lighting.
posted by defcom1 at 6:11 PM on October 17, 2010

My understanding is that vr gives you an extra stop or two, but as mentioned above, a 1.4 or 1.8 prime is going to be small, cheap and give you 3-4 extra stops versus your kit lens.
posted by snofoam at 2:20 PM on October 18, 2010

OK, I hear you guys on the stop or two. So school me up: why are my subcompact's shots in available light so consistently more appealing? it's clearly not the -physical- aperture. Additionally, the subcompact's AF is infinitely superior to the AF on the big lenses. I find the AF on the big lenses wanders all over the field of view and as noted I generally just turn it off instead of waiting for it to settle down.

Where the subcompact falls down is manual focus, the interface is just aggravating for that. So for selective-focus and depth-of-field, I still want the larger-body camera, but for on-the-fly the pocket camera is just way, way better. Why?

My intutitive analysis is that the image-stabilization on the small camera is much stronger. Am I incorrect? Is there more going on here?

The camera in question is a two-year-old (I think) Canon SD1200 IS Elph. It has a viewfinder, which is never used.

I will, I am sure, eventually do a shootout so I can better compare the image qualities of the cameras and lenses. But not this week.
posted by mwhybark at 10:27 PM on October 18, 2010

I'm not sure what your camera has, but it might be worthwhile trying out other AF modes. Sounds like maybe AF-S will make your annoyance go away.

I have a kit zoom-lens that came with my D90 (the one you linked to, actually), and, frankly, it's completely irritating to use; zooming looks woobly, and it gives me weird light artifacts sometimes. It's bleh and lives in a drawer.

Maybe you should go to your friendly local camera store, and try out some of the primes on your camera to see if autofocusing works better for you with a prime lens.
posted by ambilevous at 8:04 AM on October 23, 2010

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