What is the first lens I should buy?

Well, first go read this post, and if you just bought your camera, I will try to talk you out of buying anything.

 Ok, if you are sure you need another lens, then you need to think about what you need a lens for. I am assuming that you are looking to replace the kit lens that came with your camera. Most of the time, that lens is around an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. (In this post I will be talking Nikon, but Canon has lenses that are very similar.)

So, why do you want a lens? Other than that glass is cool. Are you wanting more reach, to get images of birds in the trees? Are you wanting to take pictures of kids in low light? Would an external flash be better? Would you like something with a zoom, or something with a fixed focal length? Do you have $300, or $3000? Do you know what f/3.5-5.6 means?

You need to be able to answer those questions to make a truly informed decision. Reading the Digital Photography Book (post) by Scott Kelby would help with this too.

Ok, lets take a look at some reasonable (for photography) options.

Nilkon 50mm f/1.8

Nilkon 50mm f/1.8

If you are looking for some “fast glass”, the traditional recomendation is the “nifty fifty.” Fast glass, or a fast lens, is a lens that has a very large minimum aperture size. This refers to a small aperture number, such as f/2.8, or f/1.4. The kit lenses are usually of a variable aperture, meaning they are not constant through out the zoom range. Zoom lenses are usually more expensive to make in a constant aperture, so most people look to get a fast lens with a single focal length. What does this do for us? By “opening up” the lens to a wide aperture, you let in more light, so the shutter speed can be faster when taking available light pictures. Also, your depth of field gets smaller, meaning that the area in the photo that is in-focus is smaller. This can be good and bad depending on the picture¬† you are taking.¬†

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AF-S

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AF-S

The Nikon 50mm f/1.8 that most people call the “nifty fifty” has been a staple of most photographers, and the price hovered around $120 – $150 depending on where you get it. (amazon) There are a couple of issues with this lens though. First of all, your camera may not work with it. Cameras like the D40, and D3000 do not have a traditional motor drive in the camera body. This means that autofocus will not work with the nifty fifty. I used this 50mm lens manually focusing on a D40 for quite some time. Worked great for flowers, not for kids. You need a AF-S lens in Nikon terms to get auto focus. That means that the lens its self has a motor in it. But, it makes the lens more expensive. Amazon has this version for about $440.¬†

Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AF-S
Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AF-S

Problem #2. The 50mm lens is a great lens. It used to be called the “standard lens” and many film era cameras shipped with just this lens (a 50mm). So what’s the problem? Sensor size. If you want to use your new “fast glass” to take pictures indoors without flash, the 50mm¬†can be too long a focal length. You might want to consider the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 AF-S instead. (amazon) ¬†On most digital cameras, the sensor is smaller than a film negative. This makes lenses appear to have a longer focal length, and why the 35mm works better indoors. 35mm x 1.5 = 52.5mm on a APS-C “crop sensor”. (I am not going to get into this anymore today, but there are lots of places to read about this,¬†like¬†here)¬†The good news is that the 35mm lens is cheaper. Amazon has it for about $200.

Nikon 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6

Nikon 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6

How about if you want to make small, or far away subjects look bigger in the viewfinder? A longer zoom? Or move your feet. Seriously. Many shots can be taken by simply getting closer to your subject. Also, telephoto lenses are not just for “making things bigger”. They also compress the scene. They make the background and the foreground appear closer together. For birds and¬†other critters, you may not be able to get close enough with your feet. If you want a telephoto, you are looking at getting something that zooms to 200 or 300 in a variable aperture, or you are spending really big money.

Some of  you may already have this lens, the Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6 AF-S VR. (amazon) Sometimes this lens is bundled in a two lens kit with some cameras. This lens is only $200 Р$250, and for a lens of this price, is really quite good. The VR (vibration reduction) helps to reduce hand shakyness, especially at slower shutter speeds. This was my first lens purchase, and one that I found useful.

What about macro? Fixed focal length zooms? Wide angle? All in one zooms? Take it slow. Learn your camera and the lens you have. See how close¬† you can get with your lens. You can get fairly close “macro-ish” shots with a kit lens. Move your feet and get closer to subjects. The 18mm of most kit lenses is reasonably wide. Learn how to use that. That said, I will tackle some of these options in another post soon.

Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 AF-S VR

Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 AF-S VR

If you want a little bit more reach, a sharper image, and have some extra money, the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S VR is considered a very¬†good lens for the money. You can find this item for less than $500. (amazon) ¬†At $500 the cost is getting more expensive, but is still reasonable in the world of camera lenses. I don’t own this lens, but many people I respect have and like this lens.


Happy Shooting.

Tamron 17-50 vs Nikon 17-55

Tamron 17-55 f/2.8I own the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens. If you follow this blog, you will know that I had to send it in for service a little while back. I had issues with focusing, and some parts coming loose. While I had the lens in for service, I had to rent the Nikon 17-55 f/2.8 when I had a wedding to shoot. This is a bit of a comparison after using both. Not scientific at all.

First of all, I bought the Tamron because it was $450. The Nikon is $1230. A bit of a difference. I now know what that money gets you. The Nikon is a lot heavier. That could be a plus or a minus depending on what you like. The weight is because the lens has more metal in it. The lens I rented was very much a rental. It was banged up pretty good, but still worked. With the Tamron I am always very careful, and one of the issues I had was that the front ring where the hood snaps on was loose. You could wiggle it.

Sharpness is good across both lenses. The Tamron appears to be fine now that I have it back. I was never really happy with, and it seemed to get worse until I sent it in. Now I have no issues. I have not tried to examine sharpness across all apertures, and I don’t have comparison pictures, but I am happy with it now. I shoot a lot with this lens at 2.8, and it seems just fine. (My Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 feels sharper, but I haven’t¬† tried to collect proof.)

nikon17-55dxFocus speed is a world of difference. Night and day. You can’t hear the Nikon, and can’t tell when it is focusing (except for the odd time that it hunts, but so do all lenses). The Nikon seems instantanious. The Tamron is slow. I don’t really care about the noise. It doesn’t bug me. But it means that I can tell how long it takes for the lens to focus. It almost always turns to get close and then a few smaller micro adjustments. I have very bad luck with moving kids. That can be an issue with any lens, but I fell it is an issue with the Tamron.

So, it really depends how you want to use this lens. If you want a fast zoom lens (aperture) to use on a small light weight body, and price is a concern (when is it not), then this is a good option. If you want to shoot sports and moving kids, I am a little unsure on giving it the thumbs up. I do shoot my own kids with this lens, but not with great results. I try to shoot with my 70-200 if I am after moving things, but that is a much longer focal length, and a much heavier lens.

For me, I am considering replacing this with the Nikon version. This issue really holding me back right now is the full frame one. If I am going to move to a full frame camera, and I want to eventually, then the 17-55 will not work on those cameras. I will keep my D90 as a backup, so maybe it is a good lens to keep with the camera. In the meantime, I will have a better lens. Doing it over, I would probably try to save for the Nikon. Paying double (or more) seems like a Nikon Tax, but there really are good reasons that it should be priced more. It’s just whether you think the durability, the weight, and the focus speed are deal breaker issues for you.

Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 Back from Service

Tamron 17-55 f/2.8 Well, I was quite surprised to see a box from Tamron when I got home yesterday. It was my 17-50 back from service. I was not expecting it so soon. I had recieved a letter from Tamron late last week saying that it would be another 2-3 weeks. That must have just been the standard boiler plate that goes out with every repair notice. It is a little annoying that they can’t look around the room and see how many lenses are in the queue waiting to go out and make a better estimate.

Notice I said I got a letter from Tamron. Yup. Paper. Not email, a paper letter. Weird. I don’t quite get what is going on there. They need a serious upgrade in the software side of the house at Tamron’s repair facility. They need to look at getting more automated communication with their customers.

I did get an email, from the post office for tracking the package. I found it in my junk mail. It must have only showed up a day or two ago, becuase I check it fairly frequently. Outside of my phoning awhile back, the only communication from Tamron was the letter from last week.

Ok, so was it fixed? It looks like it. I had several issues when I sent it in. The front ring where the lens hood attached was really loose when I sent it in. It is just like new now. The barrel, where you adjust the zoom appears to have been tightened as well. It is smooth, but tighter.

Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

The biggest issue I was having was the focusing. It just didn’t seem to nail the focus properly. I wish I had thought to take this same picture before I sent it in to compare. But if you look at the picture of the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 above, you can see the the text in the middle is very sharp. This was in auto focus. It was not anywhere near this sharp before. I need to so some tests with flowers and people still, because that is what appeared to not hit the focus sweet spot before.

So I am giving Tamron service an A for the repair, but for the whole experience, a C. The lens did come back fairly timely (sent May 11, so not super speedy). I am OK with that, but the utter lack of communication is a problem. 

Note to Tamron: customers want to have confidence that thier investment is being looked after. Remember, if you have to send something back, you are starting off with the customer frustrated.

Update: I sent Tamron a letter suggesting they improve their ability to communicate with their customers via automated emails or better/more information online. I got back a reply:

“Thank you for your suggestions. We are actually in the middle of doing some updates to our repair process to make it more automated. This may take some time but we hope to have drastic improvements in the future.”

Nice to see them respond so quickly. Hopfully (for their sake) the improvement will be soon.

Tamron lens update

I finally got lens number three of the 17-50 f/2.8 lens from B&H. Before I put the lens on I cleaned the contacts very carefully with rubbing alcohol, and made sure it was dry before putting the lens back on. It seemed to work well, except once. I got the no lens attached thing again. This time no amount of turning off/on would work. I had to unseat the lens and reattach. It just happened once. I am going to hope that it is just a D40 issue, or just this D40 and keep it. It is really nice to have a faster lens. I found that I had to swap in my 55-200 often though at the Lantern Lighting event. I didn’t always need the upper end, but 50 was just too short most of the time for an event like this. The 55-200 works fine in the middle of the day. I like it a lot, it is just too slow as evening come on. Oh well. Can’t get everything with one lens.

New lens (again) (and again not so good)

I must say, I am happy with B and H. When I called to talk about the lens, they said, send it back. They didn’t try to talk me out of it. If you have a credit card (with room) they can charge you a second time for your purchase, ship it out how you got it the first time (2 day) and then refund you when they get the old one back, so that’s what I did.

The new lens seems fine. I don’t have the same problems as before, and it seems just as sharp. I need to try to take some tests vs the Nikkor kit lens to see if I can tell a diference.

Edit: Not so good. It has the same problems. It seems that changing the focal length will sometimes cause it to malfunction. Just shooting on the same focal length seems fine. I don’t get it.

New Lens going back

The Tamron 17-50 has an issue. It sometimes doesn’t think that it is attached. I will be shooting pictures, when it will just stop auto focusing. Sometimes if I turn it off and then on, it will say the lens is not attached. That just doesn’t seem good. It was really sharp though. I was tempted not to send it back it seemed so sharp. I have a new one coming, and hopefully it will be just as sharp.

I need more speed Scottie

I was out at a family event, on a farm in Rochester with several families and more than a dozen kids. I decided to make myself the family photographer, as it gave me something to do. I was using my Nikor 55-200 f4-5.6 to get pictures of the kids. It was great during the day, but as the evening came, and the sun started going down I was getting frustrated.

In shadow, I could no longer shoot at ISO 200 with any sensible speed. I was down to a shutter speed of 50-60. Too slow to get kids. I bumped the ISO up to 400 then 800, but the shutter was still slower than I wanted. The lens is just too slow.

What are the options? Not much. The Nikor 70-200 VR f2.8 is huge, with a huge price tag of $1700. Yikes. Sigma has one with similar specs, no VR for about $800. Getting better. Even still, this wish item is likely to stay a wish.

The Nifty 50

A few days ago I received a new lens in the mail. A Nikkor 50mm 1.8D. I debated getting this lens for quite some time. The lens only costs about $120, so what was the holdup? It doesn’t auto focus on my D40. I really wanted something that would let in more light. I had been kind of saving for a Sigma 30mm F1.4 DC HSM that does autofocus on my D40, but it is around $400 now. Bit of a difference in price.

When I first got my D40, I soon found out that the kit lens on my camera was almost useless shooting in my light deprived house without flash. I did get an SB400 flash, but I wanted to shoot available light.

The 50 has been pretty good, but I am finding it a bit difficult to focus. There is no focusing screen on my camera, just a little dot in the bottom left corner that I have to look for. I find that trying to focus and look for the dot is adding just that little bit more that is making it hard to compose and ensure that I am setting the proper exposure and other settings.

I think it is good that I am forced to focus with this lens, as a learning experience, but it sure would be nice if I didn’t have to.

Here is an indoor picture of Kate that I couldn’t have taken with the kit lens.