Help me find a lens?
December 24, 2012 8:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to take a photography class. Students need a manually adjustable (non-automatic) 35mm camera and 50mm lens. I have an Nikon N50. Is that okay? Also, what kind of lens should I get?

I have a Nikon ED AF Nikkor 28-200mm1:3.5-5.6 G lens and a Nikon AF Nikkor 35-80mm 1:4-5.6 D lens, but I'm assuming those aren't okay.

I don't know anything about cameras (yet), so please respond as if I was five years old.

Thank you!
posted by topoisomerase to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes, the N50 does full manual operation.

I believe this lens should work, but you should double-check. Do you have your owner's manual?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:13 AM on December 24, 2012

I don't have the manual, but I found this website that seems to have it.
posted by topoisomerase at 8:16 AM on December 24, 2012

Unless you are specifically interested in processing film for its own sake, I would really question whether a film photography class is the right class for a beginner. You will progress more quickly, spend less money, and learn more about the current state of photography if you just start with digital. It's almost 2013.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:17 AM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:18 AM on December 24, 2012

Make sure to confirm with the class whether or not you need a film camera. Most modern photography classes will not use film cameras, and it will likely make things much more difficult, since you have a limited number of shots per roll of film, and you will probably have to look over your shots, which means a lot of money in development, as well as the time it takes to wait for development. If you are going to be putting any money towards this class at all, you'd probably be better off investing that money towards a low end DSLR, which will do everything a film camera will do, but without all the hassles.
posted by markblasco at 8:22 AM on December 24, 2012

Also, as for lenses, both nikon and canon have cheap 50mm f1.8 lenses (the nikon was linked above) which will work fine. I don't have experience with the nikon one, but I have the canon 50mm lens, and while there are certain things about it which are a little frustrating, the image quality is very good, and it is a lens you can continue to use for years and years. It looks much better than the kit zoom lenses that come with the cameras.
posted by markblasco at 8:24 AM on December 24, 2012

I don't mean to threadsit, but this is the only beginner's photography class at my school. We will be working with and developing black and white film. I'm not looking for advice telling me to start with digital (even though that sounds great).
posted by topoisomerase at 8:25 AM on December 24, 2012

A Nikon N50 with a 50mm f/1.8 lens would be an excellent setup for a beginner's class like that.

It's not uncommon for schools to start students on film photography. It is a bit outdated and it's similar to how far behind the curve most schools' "computer" classes were twenty years ago, but it's a common thing and you'll learn a lot from doing it. I would say that beginning with film as opposed to digital is less useful if you don't end up getting deeper into photography after this class, but arguably more useful if you do.

Prime lenses, meaning lenses that that only have a single "millimeter" measurement and not a range (50mm, versus 28–200mm), lack a zoom function so they aren't ideal for shooting things like wildlife or sports, where you want the ability to stand back but shoot photos that appear close-up. However, they tend to be "better glass." If you poke around Google for the phrases "50mm focal length" or "50mm prime lens," you'll find plenty of articles explaining why that is a worthwhile lens to own and an excellent lens to begin with.

Here is an article on image quality that you might find relevant and that's reasonably in the ballpark of a five-year-old. Good luck with your class, and have fun.
posted by cribcage at 9:01 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I see you're in Somerville--you might try the Calumet over by the Cambridgeside Galleria for a used 50mm. I think this stock page says they have one for $90 or so. You can bring your N50 and confirm that it works with the lens.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:04 AM on December 24, 2012

I can't think of why they want you to have a 50mm lens. Perhaps it's just so someone won't only have a really wide or telephoto or something. Or maybe it's to give you a limitation, or "equalize" the class. Your lens covers 50, so I'd check with the instructor and see if it's OK. The good news is that a 50mm lens is one of the less expensive lenses.

I'm sure your camera is fine. When I ask my students to get an adjustable camera I explain I want them to have something more than a point and shoot they can be in charge of.

Have fun! Shoot for the secrets, develop for the surprises!
posted by cccorlew at 9:32 AM on December 24, 2012

The Nikon 50mm/1.8 is inexpensive, very sharp, and excellent in low light too. I use it for almost every shot I take.
posted by zippy at 10:23 AM on December 24, 2012

I agree with those suggesting a 50mm f/1.8 - these tend to be inexpensive and useful in low light, as has been noted. Despite the possible appeal of the zoom range on the lenses you have, they are dreadfully slow. You'll have a much better experience with this class if you have the f/1.8.

Also, these "What?! Film?!" responses are cracking me up. Go shoot a ton of film. You'll have a greater appreciation of how photography works in the end!
posted by blaneyphoto at 12:02 PM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

FYI: "Only a beginner's photography class" will be challenging AND fun AND stinky. It'll be about 3/4 chemistry and 1/4 picture making. My point is that you don't really have to worry so much about buying the perfect lens at this point. You could start with a 50mm f/1.8 lens like other have said, but there's nothing wrong with using the zoom lenses you already have.

Here's my advice for a beginning photography class, which I think is much more valuable than which lens to use:

1) A lot of people will say to start shooting with a 400 ISO film, but I suggest 50 or 100 ISO film. This "low speed" film will have less grain and produce a good print with good contrast.

2) Be prepared to be disappointed by your first couple of rolls of film. You might not get anything usable on them. I am not trying to be a downer, I am just telling you how it is. I would suggest just shooting anything for your first couple of rolls of film. Nothing fancy. Take a roll of pictures of a flower or a classmate under bright sunlight or preferably overcast conditions. Just don't take the "best picture ever" because it probably won't work out and you'll be disappointed.

3) Practice rolling film onto spools a lot before you attempt to roll your own film, in the dark, unassisted.

4) Follow the film developing directions EXACTLY. The water should be warmed to the exact temperature on the directions. Tap the developing canister on a table after pouring in the developer just once so air bubbles don't form on the film. Don't shake (agitate) the developing canister too aggressively. Get a nice rolling agitation going in a figure 8 motion. Stop the agitation for the allotted times advised during the developing process. Don't skimp on the fixer time! – You'll understand all this once you get in there and start developing.

Film/print developing is NOT a simple process, especially for a beginner, but it is a very rewarding feeling to know how to develop film and make prints like the old masters. It is very much LIKE magic when your first print appears in the developing tray, because it IS magic!

Good luck and have fun!
posted by wherever, whatever at 3:02 PM on December 24, 2012

...there's nothing wrong with using the zoom lenses you already have.

1) A lot of people will say to start shooting with a 400 ISO film, but I suggest 50 or 100 ISO film. This "low speed" film will have less grain and produce a good print with good contrast.

posted by wherever, whatever

There's nothing untrue about either of these statements, however they are at odds with each other. Given how slow the zoom lenses are the the OP owns, shooting with 50 or 100 is going to limit the OP to shooting only in places with tons of great light... and that's no fun for someone exploring this stuff for the first time.

So, the faster f/1.8 lens will still be more versatile. Higher ISO film will give you more freedom to shoot in varied conditions. ALSO - if this is anything like any photography course I've taught or taken, the instructor will tell you which film to buy. Don't do anything about anything until you've attended the first class.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:21 PM on December 24, 2012

They do not want you to have a zoom lens with 50mm in the range; they want you to have a 50mm lens. This is a classic setup; 50mm is very close to a normal field of view. I know a portrait photog who *only* has a 50mm; that's it - and he makes a living off it. Not being able to zoom in or out is uncomfortable at first. In the end, however, the limitation will force you to be a better photog, faster.
posted by notsnot at 7:45 PM on December 24, 2012

I'm just throwing out an alternative here, but if you could find a 50mm 2.8 Macro lens for your Nikon, that would be a lot of fun. Macro lenses can focus very closely to subjects. Most people define macro lenses as being lenses that have at least 2:1 magnification, meaning that an object before the lens is at least half as large on the frame as it is in real life, i.e. a 30mm insect will be at least 15mm long on the frame itself. Many 50mm 2.8 Macros have 1:1 magnification, which of course is even more fun.

You'll lose two stops of light, but 2.8 is still fast enough, especially if you're not afraid of grain.

Anyway, it's just a thought. A 50mm 1.8 would be perfectly fine, too.

I can't think of why they want you to have a 50mm lens.

50mm lenses are easy to make cheap, fast, and well. They're also very easy to find used.

On the other hand, there's no point in taking pictures with slow, crappy lenses, especially if they're more expensive. Comparably priced zooms, especially ones from the film era, tend to be awful. My kit lens from the 90s was a piece of garbage.

(Zoom lenses are far better nowadays, even kit zoom lenses, but they're still not fast, and the cheap ones won't work properly on film cameras.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:30 AM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

They probably want a fixed focal length lens rather than a zoom lens because at least one of the assignments will be about taking pictures with a small depth of field. A small depth of field lets you keep stuff at a certain distance in focus, but everything else is out of focus.

A small depth of field is achieved by using a large aperture. Aperture is the size of the hole in the lens that light comes through. The smaller the number, the bigger the hole. Both of your zoom lenses (and any other relatively inexpansive zoom lens) have an aperture of about f/4 at 50 mm. This is will give a larger depth of field than a 50/1.8, and make the assignment more difficult.

I good place to buy used lenses is The 50/1.8 is here.
posted by Quonab at 8:14 AM on December 27, 2012

I'll see if I can test out the lens at the Calumet. Thank you all for all the help and information! A++ would ask again.
posted by topoisomerase at 8:26 AM on January 1, 2013

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