Is there a wide-angle zoom lens equivalent to the 50mm lens?
June 20, 2012 9:32 AM   Subscribe

I need an all-around wide angle or zoom lens that's of good quality. I'm already really happy with my f/1.8 50mm, what's the zoom/wide angle lens equivalent of the 50mm?

So I have a Nikon DX camera, and I have a f/1.8 50mm lens for it. I absolutely ADORE this lens. I've been getting some INCREDIBLE photos with it. It's sharp and the colors come out bright and beautiful.

I've done a lot of research into other lenses but my problem is that the more I read about it the more confused I get about what I need in a lens and then I just want to buy a ton of lenses. At the moment I'm not interested in spending thousands of dollars on 4 more lenses, so I'm looking for another all-around awesome lens that I can use for everything that I can't do with my 50mm (and I've been using my 50mm for everything pretty much). However, the 50mm lens is not wide at all, so for capturing events like bike races or city landscapes it's pretty useless.

So, in terms of wide-angle lenses or zooms, what's the equivalent of the 50mm?

I'd also like to point out that I have the 18-55mm lens that came with my camera and it's terrible. I hate using it, and the quality of the photos that I get with that lens is much lower than the quality of the photos of the 50mm. So this new lens has to be a significant upgrade from the kit lens. I'd also like have some nice bokeh if possible / good depth of field.

Budget - as cheap as possible would be nice, I probably wouldn't consider anything over $700-$800. I'm just amazed at how great the 50mm is and how cheap it is.

Things I'll be taking photos of:
- Bike races
- Landscapes
- Cities
- Athletic competitions
posted by carmel to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I got an older Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 lens for less than $300 used, and I love it almost as much as my Nikkor 50mm f/1.8. It is roughly equivalent to 35mm with a crop sensor (which is what I have on my Nikon D300), and is a nice wide-angle focal length without distortion.
It is also the same size as my 50mm f/1.8, so they can share a polarizer/lens cap conveniently, saving me hassle. Take it off one and put it on the other. These lenses are also roughly equivalent in terms of what they need for light; what you lose going to f/2.8 you gain from shorter focal length. Together, they make up my small travel kit.

I also have a Tokina 12-24mm f/4 lens, which I love, love, love. I use it all the time, for everything, but there is a lot of distortion under 24mm that you have to learn to work with. It's also nowhere near as sharp at the edges as the 24mm f/2.8 prime, so I recommend the prime over the zoom.
posted by aabbbiee at 10:13 AM on June 20, 2012

The problem is that Nikon doesn't make any especially wide primes in the DX format, which means you have to go full-frame, but the crop factor kills the wide angle. Even the 20mm primes will be equivalent to 30mm on a DX. At that point you might as well go with the DX 35mm/f1.8, which is as wide and fast as it gets in DX right now (it's also much cheaper than the FX 20mm and 24mm primes). It's not a particularly great lens, but we have one, and it's good for indoor, low-light situations.
posted by jedicus at 10:14 AM on June 20, 2012

I'm not familiar with Nikon's lineup, but you should go to a reliable lens review website like PhotoZone and see what they recommend.

Even if Nikon doesn't make many truly wide primes, there are still plenty of solid third-party options for ultrawide zooms. I guess it all depends how wide you want to go.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:23 AM on June 20, 2012

I love my 18-200 VR, it's a great all-around lens, just not in the dark, but for that the 50mm 1.8 or 35mm 1.8 (more light!) are great.
posted by defcom1 at 10:28 AM on June 20, 2012

I have the 18-55mm lens that came with my camera and it's terrible
If none other than Ken Rockwell says it's "sharp, sharp, sharp," and calls it one of the ten best Nikon lenses, there's a real question about what you mean by "terrible." Within the constraints of being a relatively slow lens, I can assure you that all kit lenses contain gobs of engineering expertise, especially since many DSLR owners never use anything else.

Like you, I have only two lenses, and I shoot everything with a Pentax f/1.4 50mm and never use the kit lens. That doesn't mean it's terrible. Now, maybe it means that zooms are terrible. But you're not going to get a zoom that performs much better than the kit lens in that range without spending a lot of money. Try the 35mm prime suggested above if it's really important to get superior boke and low-light performance, but maybe also play with your kit lens at 18mm and f/3.5 to see if you can get wide pictures you like.
posted by wnissen at 10:46 AM on June 20, 2012

Even if Nikon doesn't make many truly wide primes

Nikon make a ton of them. Their Nikkor lens range is the best.

Every length is good for something, but a 28mm is very useful on a mini-sensor SLR like the one you have, being close to standard (it's about 45mm equivalent). Nikon make primes in a zillion different lengths though and there are lots of them available second hand.

They have been producing lenses since the 60s with many generational changes - when buying secondhand the lenses with D or G in the name are current. Some people prefer the D lenses as they have a hardware aperture ring, you may not care about that.

Don't buy DX lenses. They'll work on your camera but not on cameras with larger sensors, so they limit your body upgrade options and have less of a resale market.
posted by w0mbat at 11:35 AM on June 20, 2012

I am very grumpy that a 50mm telephoto is considered the new "normal" - it's far too tight, as you're discovering. The problem is, the old 35mm wide angle lenses, which would be the closest equivalent to the real normal focal length with an APS-C camera, are all retrofocus designs and need to be re-engineered for the new sensor size.

Now, a normal focal length approximates what you can "see" with the naked eye - you get the same field of view and foreshortening you would if you closed one eye.

Retrofocus is where the point of focus is projected well behind the last element of the lens, much farther than the focal length would otherwise allow - this is essential in wide-angle SLR lenses, as the rear element would get in the way of the mirror. The problem is, as the sensor area of your APS-C camera is smaller than the film area of the old film SLR, lenses designed for wide angle now only cover "normal" focal lengths - there's no need for the bulk and loss of image quality, but you get it anyway.

Nikon has seen the light, and released a "normal" 35mm f/1.8 DX, designed from the ground up for the small-fram Nikon DSLRs. I think you will discover that this was the lens you were meant to have right from the start. It's still pretty "tight" for a normal lens, true normal being closer to 30mm, but I think you will find it a vast improvement, and it's purported to be a fairly sharp lens.

The Nikkor 35mm f/2 wide angle is regarded as a very unpleasant lens, do not mistake it for the new 35mm 1.8 DX.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:50 AM on June 20, 2012

Nikon has seen the light, and released a "normal" 35mm f/1.8 DX, designed from the ground up for the small-fram Nikon DSLRs. I think you will discover that this was the lens you were meant to have right from the start. It's still pretty "tight" for a normal lens, true normal being closer to 30mm, but I think you will find it a vast improvement, and it's purported to be a fairly sharp lens.

I had this lens as my only lens and love love loved it. It's got all the nice things about the 50mm except it's wider (and more expensive, and focuses internally). I love indoor available-light photography and this thing was perfect for me.

If we're quoting Rockwell on the 50mm, let's see what he says on this one:
This is a wonderful lens, and for only $200, every DX shooter deserves one of these. This could be the only lens you ever need for a DX camera... This lens is Nikon's commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Henri Cartier-Bresson's birth. If Henri Cartier-Bresson were starting today, he'd have a D40, one of these lenses, and that's it.
posted by BungaDunga at 2:22 PM on June 20, 2012

Until I switched to FX format cameras, my 17-55/f2.8 AF-S Nikon lens was my jack of all trades glass. It equates roughly to a 26-85mm lens on a 35mm film camera or an FX digital body. I loved it so much I had two of them, since backup equipment is critical to my profession.

Although it's bigger and heavier than what you're used to using, it gives you a fast, optically excellent single lens solution good for a high percentage of what most people want to shoot. At the wide angle end, you're significantly wider than a 35mm lens, and at 55mm, you can shoot tight head shots with only the most minimal distortion.

I have been paid to shoot well over 100,000 images with a 17-55/2.8, including any number of full page magazine photos. I am a guy who pretty much lives between f/2.8 and f/4.5, and this is good wide open and thereabouts. Like all of the other Nikon f/2.8 AF-S zooms, it has sharpness that at least approaches the best prime lenses, and has the contrast and pop of the primes as well, unlike every variable aperture zoom lens I've ever used.

This is not an inexpensive lens, but is built like a tank. Keep your eyes on auction and classified web sites and you can occasionally find these at very good prices. The two I sold went for just under $1000, and just over $1000 each.

Two buyers got a lot of capability for their money.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:40 PM on June 20, 2012

Buy good lenses used from a reliable place like KEH. They're cheaper, and they've already depreciated.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:19 PM on June 20, 2012

You're discovering that Nikon doesn't make a fast (smallish, ideally) wide-angle prime for DX format. Why not remains something of a mystery. If it was anything near reasonably priced I'd be all over something like a 17mm f/2.8, and I can't imagine I'm alone in that. 28mm and 24mm lenses were very popular in the old 35mm film days for good reason.

Unfortunately, none of the other mainstream DSLR brands make something like that either. So the alternative is the short end of a wide-angle zoom. If I was starting out again now, I'd probably get the relatively affordable Tamron 17-50mm that has a good reputation. I've got the Nikon DX 10-24mm, and it's a bunch of fun if very wide-angle is your thing, but not a budget item.
posted by normy at 8:02 PM on June 20, 2012

Depending upon whether you mean wide angle per se, or just "wider than 50," Sigma makes a 30mm f/1.4 lens with a DX mount. I have the Canon-mount version of that lens and like it very well. Then again, I also have a fairly decent 17-85 zoom which, although very slow, I can use when I really need something wider than 30. So I guess the Sigma wouldn't work as well for you if you need < 30mm at times.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 1:17 PM on June 21, 2012

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