Lenses

Your choice of lenses is an entirely personal affair. It depends only on your needs (and wallet), and as long as you have good reasons for your choices, they are the right ones. Some commentators spend a lot of worry on the fact that there are not enough Nikon “DX” lenses for the DX cameras. Further, they claim that there are a wealth of “FX” lenses for the FX cameras sold in much less quantities. And the conclusion should be that Nikon is mismanaging the DX lineup.

Of course there are no “FX” lenses. There are Nikon F-mount lenses, of which most have an image circle (the area that produces reasonable images) that fit the original 35 mm film format, which is the same as the digital FX format. Those lenses then by definition also fill smaller image circle needs like DX. Thus, there are no “FX” lenses, but there are DX lenses. Those lenses fill a smaller image circle, around 16 x 24 mm compared to 24 x 36 mm for 35 mm film. The “around” comes from most Nikon DX sensors having slightly differing sensor sizes but none larger than 16 x 24 which is what a DX lens must cover.

There is no shortage of lenses for DX cameras; they are not just all DX-only lenses. Thus, some of them can at first sight be considered a “waste” since they have a larger image circle than required. But many F-mount lenses have a larger circle than required for 35 mm film (and FX) but there have not been any outcries about that. Some lenses are less well-suited for DX, including some very wide angle lenses and for example the 35 mm wide angle which needs to use a retrofocus design to attain the larger circle while the 35/1.8 DX does not have to. Retrofocus lenses are more complicated and heavier. This is why the 35 mm comes in a DX version and standard F-mount versions.

My choice of lenses is the following:

Wide angle: Sigma HSM 10-20/4-5.6

For me a better choice than Nikkor 10-24, Nikkor 12-14, Tokina 11-16, or the newer Sigma 10-20/3.5. Smaller and lighter than the others, better range than some. Compared to the other Sigma, it’s less expensive and I don’t need the extra (half) stop that often. Thom Hogan reached the same conclusion regarding Sigma vs Nikkor.

Normal zoom: Nikkor 18-55/3.5-5.6

Came with the D3100. Some will frown at this since it is a kit zoom. But the image quality is among the best of the normal zooms. I think I have tried them all, but one who certainly has tried them all ranked the 18-55 VR top among the 18-xx zooms (one of three with four optics stars and the only one with four value stars). Very low weight, and as always – the less weight you carry, the more you carry it.

Super zoom: Tamron 28-300/3.5-6.3

Has the mnemonics XR Di VC LD Aspherical IF… Despite that, a very good lens considering its range. To me, this has a better range, even on DX, than the 18-200 and much better image quality. Easily better than the Nikkor 18-300. And it works on FX as well. It isn’t really 300 mm, especially not at close distance, rather 270 mm (the same goes for other super zooms like the Nikkor 18-300). Superior size and weight, only 84 mm and 15 oz. (420 grams). In my view, the only super-zoom small, light and good enough to stay on all the time for general shooting. It has very good ergonomics and good enough image quality (which is not always the case with super zooms). I didn’t use to believe in super zooms but got the idea from Thom Hogan who uses this lens as his walkabout lens for the Nikon D700.

Prime: Nikkor 50/1.8 D

Very light, very small, very cheap. Of course excellent image quality since it’s so easy to build optically and mechanically. The fast aperture is useful for depth-of-field isolation in portraits. This lens costs just about nothing and is a very good portrait lens (on DX) and a very good normal lens (on FX). The comparable portrait lens Nikkor 85/1.8 for FX cameras is much heavier and more expensive. I find the overrated Nikkor 35/1.8 DX to be much less useful. It is a normal lens on DX but the fast aperture give too little depth-of-field for ‘normal’ shots so I use the 18-55 and its VR instead for the same available light and better DOF. And for portraits, it’s too wide anyway.

Sometimes used: Tamron 200-500/5-6.3

The Tamron 200-500 is excellent when reach is the primary selection factor. But it is indeed big – both in size and weight. And it lacks VR (VC as Tamron calls it) and is thus used mostly on a tripod (or at least a monopod). The tripod collar is in the right place to make it balance nicely with a D70 as well as a D3x. For slightly less reach and superior handling, the 28-300 is used much more often.

Seldom used: Nikkor 24-70/2.8

Came with the D3x and has very good image quality but weighs a ton and is ergonomically a disaster. Doesn’t even have VR, so the practical image quality in dim light conditions is clearly not so good. The size and weight of a major telephoto lens but a very narrow range for its appearance. The opposite of the Tamron 28-300 above.

Not used: Nikkor 18-70/3.5-4.5

Came with the D70 but is heavier than the 18-55 and lacks VR. Not fun wide open due to heavy vignetting.

Again, lenses are a very personal choice. The best overall review of Nikkor lenses is, in my opinion, this one. Make sure you have the lenses that suit your needs and interests, not those of the manufacturers, camera testers, or other photographers.

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