a few good len(s)
October 24, 2010 3:08 PM   Subscribe

[DSLR-filter] I'm buying my first DSLR camera! Woohoo, excitement all around (except in my wallet). I've settled on a Nikon D90, but I'm not sure what lens to get with it. Options/details inside.

So I'm planning to purchase the Nikon D90 - but I don't know which kit, if either, I should purchase.

My plan is to spend as little as possible, but obviously I want my money well spent. Figure I can't spend more than $1200 right now, but I'd like to spend even less (especially as I'll be figuring in a memory card, too...)

I'm primarily interested in portrait work, so that's the priority.

(I've read the other dslr camera questions, but some were outdated and none was quite this question...so if I missed it, I'm sorry!)

My options seem to be:

-Body w/ 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S VR DX Nikkor Zoom Lens (~$1,040 from amazon)

-Body w/ Nikon 55-200mm VR Lens (~$920 from B&H)


-Body (~$800 from Amazon) and purchase a different lens altogether.

Any help or suggestions would be appreciated - I've scoured dpreview, cnet, even the infamous ken rockwell, but I'd like some wisdom from the hive!
posted by firei to Technology (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's tough to recommend to a newbie because you won't know what you want until you have experience with it. My recommendation is go with one of the zooms you listed, and choose based on whether wide angle or telephoto is more of a priority. Then for portraits pick up the fabulously awesome for the price $100 nikon 500mm f/1.8 lens.

Also consider saving money by getting a D3000 instead. All modern DSLRs are amazing machines and frankly you won't need the extra features of the D90 right away.
posted by MillMan at 3:25 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

sorry, that should have been 50mm. A f/1.8 500mm for $100 would be unicorn awesome.
posted by MillMan at 3:26 PM on October 24, 2010 [8 favorites]

Being a lifelong Canon user, I can't really comment specifically on those Nikons. However, Canon and Nikon do a pretty decent job of matching each other I think with similar offerings at relatively close price points. The one thing that I KNOW is true of the Canon kits, it that the lenses included are generally junk (with only one exception that I can think of right now). Anything that's f/3.5-5.6 is slow as molasses and hardly worth owning. Also, although I know you're trying to get as much as you can for as little as you can, you'd likely be better served by getting a body with a nice fast prime lens. You can always (well, almost) zoom with your feet. And if portraiture is your main goal, then the wide end of either of those kit lenses won't be particularly useful anyway.
posted by blaneyphoto at 3:29 PM on October 24, 2010

Best answer: For portrait work, you really need at least one and preferably 2-3 flashes.

If you can buy a refurbished by Nikon D90, it would free up some money for lenses/accessories.

You might forgo new lenses and look at older lenses. Even if they don't auto focus (although almost all of them will), it doesn't really matter since you're working with a stationary subject and a little soft focus is rarely a bad thing in a portrait.

Another option is the 50mm f/1.8 prime. I've taken a few portrait shots with it, and it works OK. The best part is that it's only a hundred bucks, which leaves plenty of room for a flash or two and some umbrellas and other lighting gear. Seriously. For portraiture, lighting is everything. You want to be able to cast light where ever you like and in whatever color you like. Occasionally, you can get nature to cooperate, but you can't count on it.

SB-600s work fine for this, as long as you're not taking group photos. If you are, you really want something that will let you adjust the light from each strobe individually.

tl;dr: focus more on lighting, and less on lenses for your proposed use. 55mm is telephoto on a DX sensor, so you need wider than that for general use, although it's reasonable for portraits outside of a studio setting, IMO. Since you don't need razor sharpness, you can look at all sorts of inexpensive lenses. Nikon's biggest advantage is the used lens market. Take advantage of it so you can afford lighting.

Sorry my thoughts aren't particularly together today, but hopefully you can glean some useful information from it. :(

P.S. Read strobist. Also, the D5000 and D3000 won't autofocus the nifty fifty, as it's not an AF-S lens.
posted by wierdo at 3:29 PM on October 24, 2010

Best answer: 55mm is pretty long/limiting for your widest angle available. 18-105 would be a lot more versatile.
I have a D50, and the lens I keep on there 90% of the time is my 50mm f/1.8, as MillMan suggests.

Ah, just saw that portrait work is the priority. I think the extra speed of the 50mm prime lens would be fantastic for portraiture (depth of field control)
posted by misterbrandt at 3:32 PM on October 24, 2010

Best answer: For portrait work you want focal lengths from at least 50mm. Otherwise you are limited to close ups. The D90 is a 1.5 crop, so this would seem to rule out the 55-200, which would effectively start at over 80mm. Besides, on the long end 105 (effectively 160) is more than what you could possibly need for portraits.

In addition, you really want to have narrow depth of field. At minimum you want sharp images at 4f, but much wider apertures are desirable.

Why don't you go then for primes? Either the 18-105 + one prime, or just several primes with no zoom. Primes give you excellent optical quality with wide maximum aperture (much wider than zooms). If your subjects will seat for you then primes is the way to go.
posted by Hediot at 3:36 PM on October 24, 2010

Actually, having just tested out my 50mm, I dare say I'd want something longer for head shots. Maybe 70mm. (the Nikons are actually a 1.42 crop, not 1.5, so 35mm is almost the perfect equivalent to a 50mm's field of view on a full frame body)
posted by wierdo at 4:03 PM on October 24, 2010

For portrait work, you really need at least one and preferably 2-3 flashes.

This is not true at all for a beginner in DSLR photography. You don't "need" anything but a camera; approach claims that it's impossible to get good photos without x, y and z with deep skepticism.

I would, however, Nth others and recommend picking up that fast, cheap 50mm, it will become your best friend for off-the-cuff, indoor, night portraits. The bokeh (blurry background) a big aperture gives you is terrific with a lot of things, but especially people's faces. For bang-for-buck it's a great lens, especially for a beginner.

Also, don't be afraid to look at 3rd party lenses like Sigma or Tamron, there's nothing wrong with them (though you will find it hard to match the price of bundled lenses).
posted by smoke at 4:08 PM on October 24, 2010

I would never buy a DX lens. If and when you ever upgrade the body, you want to keep the same lenses. That's sort-of the whole point to the standardized lens mount: yes, lenses are expensive but hey, at least you can use them on other bodies (of the same manufacturer).

So five years down the line and it's looking like you're getting really good at photography so you want to upgrade your D90 to a fancier full-frame (FX) sensor, and… ah crap! gotta get a new lens. No, thank you.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:11 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

If someone wants to be at the mercy of natural lighting and its attendant shadows, that's their choice. Just like poorly used flash (particularly the onboard flash) gives you a "snapshot" look, the lack of flash can do the same thing.

Here's a great example. (the first one I found, actually)

Yeah, it's not strictly true that you need flash, but light is the currency of photography. Without light you don't have a picture.
posted by wierdo at 4:15 PM on October 24, 2010

I love the Tamron lenses. I use Canon rather than Nikon, but Tamron makes lenses for both. They cover a broad range of situations, and are extremely cheap for what they do.
posted by yeolcoatl at 5:03 PM on October 24, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, all! I think I'm going to bite the bullet and go with a nifty fifty and the 18-105mm...

I just have to get up the nerve to hit the "buy now!" button...whew that's a lot of money! ;)

Maybe I'll wait until the morning. Thanks again!
posted by firei at 5:35 PM on October 24, 2010

Best answer: If you need a little push to get you to hit that button, let me just say that I bought my first DSLR last year (Canon T1i) and it is some of the best money I've ever spent. EVER. It's so liberating to have a camera that can take pictures that matches what's in my head, as opposed to being limited by point & shoots. It was a big chunk of change (got 3 lenses as well) but I haven't for a moment regretted and I know you'll love yours! DOOOOO IT.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 6:30 PM on October 24, 2010

A nifty-fifty and the 18-105mm lens is a good starting combo. I don't use my 55-200mm very much, only when telephoto is absolutely necessary. I use the 50mm more than I do my other primes (a 30mm, an 85mm, and a 105mm) and I've had very good results with portraits with that lens.

Civil_Disobedient: So you want her to spend two to three times as much on lenses now because she might buy a $2,500-3,000 full-frame camera later on?
posted by mcwetboy at 6:47 PM on October 24, 2010

Save your money on the 18-105mm. Until you know what you actually like shooting, get yourself an 18-55mm and 50mm prime. You can supplement the excellently sharp, very lightweight 18-55mm with the comparably-cheap 55-200 later, if you prefer to shoot zoomed all the way in, and the 50mm F1.8 is just a fantastic, fantastic prime, beautifully forgiving for novice photographers.

Take the 18-55 and the 50, and then shoot a few tens of thousand photos to figure out what you actually want to shoot, before spending a ton of money on other lenses.
posted by mhoye at 7:05 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Civil_Disobedient: So you want her to spend two to three times as much on lenses now because she might buy a $2,500-3,000 full-frame camera later on?
posted by mcwetboy

Actually, its not really an unreasonable suggestion. While I sometimes use crop sensor bodies, I'd never purchase a EFS (for Canon) lens - only EF. I want to be able to use all my lenses on my film bodies, crop bodies and full frame. Can't do it with EFS. While the OP isn't yet at that point, they might be in the not too distant future - and you'll never regret having great glass.
Also, lenses, rare a FAR better investment than camera bodies. They hold value and in some instances increase.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:37 PM on October 24, 2010

I was in a similar situation, when I asked about what lenses to buy with my new D3000. As suggested in my question, I bought the Nikon 35mm f/1.8. And I'll be buying a 18-200mm (probably the Sigma for stabilization/cost reasons) soon.

I've been exceptionally happy with the 35mm for indoor/low light and the kit 18-55mm for bright/outdoors. But the prime (whether 35mm or 50mm) is a must for the wider apertures in a great price.
posted by LouMac at 7:42 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Tamron 17-50 2.8 VC is a great lens. It's very high quality, f2.8, and optically stabilized.

And, I don't know if I'm breaking Metafilter rules here or no, but I want to sell my D90. MeFi mail me if you want.
posted by zachawry at 3:47 AM on October 25, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks again, everyone!

I did buy the D90, the 18-105mm, and the 50mm this morning - Zachawry, I wish I had waited until after my run to buy it because then your post would have been there but unfortunately I did get it from amazon. (Best of luck selling yours though!)

So I should have it all in a week/2 weeks and then the fun begins! Yippee! :)
posted by firei at 5:02 AM on October 25, 2010

So you want her to spend two to three times as much on lenses now

Not at all. I want them to try and be smart about how they spend their money. A crappy, cropped zoom over a couple of gently-used, fast primes? This is a no-brainer.

It's amazing how quickly most people getting interested in photographer go gear-crazy. Most people convince themselves they need a zoom because it will open up their artistic opportunities, but in reality they could get by with a nice, fast prime and what those in the industry call "manual zoom." The advantages? Better build quality, higher resale value and greater compatibility. The artistic advantages? Better low-light opportunities, sharper images at wide-open apertures, less chromatic aberrations (unless you're spending mucho money for f/2.8 zooms, but that's not what we're talking about here).

If you have a 75mm lens you have a 70mm lens, a 71mm lens, a 72mm lens…an 79mm lens, an 80mm lens. With just a step forward or a step back. Yes, there are very subtle differences in field of view, but they are pretty trivial. On the other hand, shooting at f/5.6 is vastly different than shooting at f/2.8. You have better low-light capabilities, sure, but you also get much nicer-looking bokeh for portraits.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:59 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's also amazing how people get caught up in the "full-frame" madness, when cropped sensors are excellent tools as well. Unless you like to shoot really wide, or need the one or two stops advantage that full-frame offers , there is no need for full-frame. And, of course, lots of professional sports and wildlife shooter shoot crop cameras because of the extra "reach."

I agree with Civil about primes, though. My ZF 100/2 has by far produced the best images to come out of my camera.
posted by zachawry at 7:38 AM on October 25, 2010

Civil_Disobedient wrote: "A crappy, cropped zoom over a couple of gently-used, fast primes?"

Your mistake is in thinking that the Nikon zooms are "crappy." Yeah, they're not prime lenses, and they're not crazy Leica quality, but they produce pleasing photos, as long as you have the necessary light and aren't looking for super-small depth of field.

Besides, at least for the 55-200, the bokeh is quite pleasant.

Don't think I'm knocking primes; I like 'em. But zoom lenses also have their uses.

firei: You'll be happy with your choice. I've heard nothing but good things about the 18-105 and the 50mm f/1.8 is an excellent lens.
posted by wierdo at 2:56 PM on October 25, 2010

You're going to love that D90! I have one and I love mine. I bought a D90 body from B&H online along with an 18-200mm lens which I've been really thrilled with. This suits my photography quite well since most of what I do is outdoor photo-walk type stuff where I head out with my camera and come back a few hours later with at least a hundred photos.

Sometimes you can really save by buying combo packages.

I also picked up a 50mm prime. Those things are super sharp and cheap too (which explains why everybody owns them).

With my first DSLR (a D50), I made the mistake of buying a cheaper Tamron zoom. I've since learned that it's really worth it to spend more for a better lens. Like I said, I've been really pleased with my Nikon 18-200mm.
posted by 2oh1 at 4:47 PM on October 25, 2010

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