Help with Nikon zoom lenses versus prime lenses plz.

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by steven_e007, Jun 15, 2009.

  1. steven_e007

    steven_e007 Member

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    Hi,

    I usually use junk - I have rather a lot of it :smile:

    But recently I aquired a really fine Nikon F3 body. I have a standard 50 mm lens for it, but...

    I'm into photoing birds (a bit, I'm not a fanatic or anything, but my wife is an ultra keen birder, so when I tag along, a camera gives me something to do :wink: )

    I confess - I have recently been trying out a digital SLR (sorry to use bad language on the site).

    I've had enough - can't stand the things. OK, they have advantages, but I'm sick of fighting with it, always auto-focussing on the wrong thing and getting it's exposure 'confused' by the back light or the shade or the refelection and it never fires the flippin' shutter when you actually press the button and, and, and... :mad: :rolleyes:

    So, I am of a mind to get a nice big lens for the Nikon and do it properly.

    I'm thinking 200 mm upwards. My previous experience of zooms is that they give barrel distortion at one end and pincushion at the other and are a bit slow and dim for their bulk, I always prefer prime lenses, but as I said, I usually use cheap M42 junk.

    So, question is... how good are Nikon Nikkor zoom lenses? I'm looking at maybe an 80-200 AI zoom or a 100-300 AI zoom. Alternatively I'm considering a 200mm or 300mm AI prime lens, all second hand obviously.

    Is the prime lens superiority as noticeable with Nikkor lenses as with the more humble stuff?

    Any Nikon gurus out there who can give a Nikon novice some advice?

    Thanks.
     
  2. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    The only zoom lens I currently own is a Nikkor 80-200 f/4.5

    I keep it in case I need a zoom lens when I'm unable to "zoom with my feet" (Boats, kayaks or whatever).

    That said, it compares favourably with my Nikkor 105 /2.5 and 200 /4.0.
    Logically, I should use it more often, I just don't like zooms...
     
  3. ann

    ann Subscriber

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    for many years my favorite nikkor was an 80-200 2.8, it is very sharp;but it is now sitting on the desk as i have a 70-200 2.8 vr lens and it too is terrific, but only need to lug one around.

    when zooms first came out i hated them because they weren't very good, but times are much different now and they are better made (please let's not start a war about prime vs zooms). It all comes down to what is going to work for the individual.

    perhaps you could borrow one and /or rent one for the day and check for yourself.
     
  4. Allan Swindles

    Allan Swindles Member

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    Zoom or prime, if it's for bird pics. you'll need a minimum of 400mm.
     
  5. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Perhaps the lowest cost (and lightest!) entry will be the Nikon 300/4, which is quite good. The 300/2.8 is known to be better (especially if you use a TC) but the 2.8 is of course much heavier and more expensive. Anyway my avatar was taken handheld with the 300/4 on an F100, so... it's fast enough for that kind of thing and light enough to chase hummers :wink:

    If you want to go a lot longer on a budget: I have also used a manual focus mamiya 500mm (for the m645 family) on my Nikon bodies, using an inexpensive adapter available on ebay. The results were very good.

    I once had a manual 400/3.5 and it was great fun for birds out the window, but it was too heavy to take out in the field. After many months of not using it I sold it. But it is very good if you have the patience to set it up and wait for something to wander into your shot.
     
  6. dougjgreen

    dougjgreen Member

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    I wish you luck. But I have bad news. There is no such thing as inexpensive lenses that will do the job shooting birds. Any inexpensive lens you get will frustrate you and make you yearn for something longer and faster and sharper when it is long and fast.

    In the manual focus domain, you might be able to pick up a 300mm f4 AIS lens for a couple hundred dollars. Another choice, if you can find one, is the Tokina AT-X 100-300mm f4 zoom. You might find one of those for $100-125 and it's quite good. But it won't do as well with a teleconverter as the Nikkor 300mm f4 will. And you will want a teleconverter, because 300mm is nowhere near long enough with the full 35mm frame. You'll want to get to 600mm at least, which means a 2x TC on a 300mm lens.

    But your frustration will really begin when you realize that manual focus gear is very limiting when shooting birds. And the current autofocus lenses that are long enough and fast enough all have an extra digit in the price. And it gets worse from there.
     
  7. nyoung

    nyoung Member

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    The minimum entry choice for birding is 300mm.

    Given that the pro sports shooters keep the prices of beater 300mm f2.8s over $1,000 your best entry choice is the 300mm f4.5 ED-IF made in the mid nineties.
    You can recognize it by the fact that the lens barrel is a constant diameter until you get to the objective (front) lens element which is housed in a larger (77mm) cylinder about three inches long.
    Because its internal focus (IF), the focus is smooth and light making for easy follow focus once you get the hang of it.

    There used to be a wildlife photography magazine here in the US that published lots of bird photos along with the technical details of how they were made.
    A very large number of very excellent shots were made with the 300/4.5/EDIF often coupled to the TC-200 teleconverter so I'll say IT CAN be done.

    A handy tip I learned from reading about the birders was the use of a tripod attached to the lens tripod socket supplemented by a monopod screwed into the camera body to create a very rigid four footed platform for shooting long glass at low shutter speeds.

    Good luck with you project you will find it challenging and be warned you may become obsessed. Mastering the technique for this sort of thing can become a passion of it own before you know it.

    Another thing, hanging out with other birders - particularly birding photographers - will bring you into contact with all sorts of exotic home-brew gear created to help get the shot.
     
  8. steven_e007

    steven_e007 Member

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    Hi,

    Thanks for the replies.

    Something I didn't mention - I own a Carl Zeiss spottting scope, an 85mm Diascope (That's the diameter). Zeiss provide an adapter so this can function as a 1000mm lens for the Nikon. Now, a spotting scope isn't a camera lens; they are designed to put small exit pupil image into an eyeball, not a flat field across a 35mm film. It won't be in the same class as a 1000mm camera lens I'm sure, but - I am told by those who have tried it that it is better than you might expect and a hell of a lot cheaper option than buying a 1000mm ED Nikon lens! :surprised:

    So, with the very long lens option covered (well, sort of...) I was thinking 300mm as about the longest lens I could reasonably carry around (and handhold). I've now been convinced that 200mm is too short. So, the 300mm F4.5 is what I'm aiming at, with hopefully a 2X convertor, too. Not sure if I can stretch to the ED, cost wise, but I'll look into it. I definately am not in the autofocus league, can't afford it.

    So, manual focus 300mm F4.5 is definately favourite so far.
    But, when I previously searched the dealers, I did notice a few 100 - 300mmm zooms available, so thought it worth asking.

    No, I don't want to start a zoom vs. prime war! Each to his own preference. My personal instinct is to go for a prime lens, best optics for the cost, less weight, easier, simpler. I like simple, that is why I can't stand digital. But I did just wondered if the shortcomings I've experienced in the past with cheap zooms are as evident in the Nikkor lenses?

    I'm kinda getting the impression that prime is the way to go?
     
  9. dougjgreen

    dougjgreen Member

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    Nikon's 300mm f4.5 AIS is significantly improved over the earlier 300mm f4.5 AI which was derived from the earlier Nikkor-H. Surprisingly, the Tokina AT-X 100-300mm f4 zoom is also clearly better than the Nikkor 300mm f4.5 AI at 300mm. I owned both of these, and when I compared the Tokina to the Nikkor, it wasn't close st 300mm, so I sold the Nikkor. I would drop that one from consideration, and either get a more recent AIS version of the Nikkor prime, or the Tokina AT-X 100-300 if you can find it - it's a really wonderful lens, and it's beautifully built too. Given the practical advantage of a 100-300 zoom just from a framing perspective, I would jump on that one if you could find it. It's also not any larger and heavier than a 300mm f4 prime, surprisingly.

    The main advantage to the 300mm f4.5 Nikkor AIS Prime vs. the Tokina 100-300 is that the Nikkor is better when used with a good 2x converter.

    I should add that I also found and own, a mechanical beater, but optically excellent 300mm f2.8 AI Nikkor ED IF. That is optically the best of all, both on it's own and especially with a 2X converter - but it's huge and heavy, and I generally hate to carry it around, so I much more frequently use the much lighter Tokina 100-300mm lens in the field if I won't be needing a converter.

    One more point - most of my actual use of these lenses has been with digital. I only mention this because of the crop factor, and that I'm getting the effective field of view of a 450mm lens on film. I really don't think that for birding, a 300mm lens without a TC is long enough most of the time on the full 35mm frame.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 16, 2009
  10. Paul Jenkin

    Paul Jenkin Member

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    You have two main options as I see it:

    1) Stick with the budget lens range. Probably frustrating as you won't get the wide aperture or first-class optics to do the job properly

    2) Go for the top-end lenses (second hand, as you say). Check the "Aperture Photographic" website:

    http://www.apertureuk.com/

    They're based at 44 Museum Street, London - near the British Museum in Bloomsbury and they usually have some older long focal length Nikon fit 'fast' lenses. Not cheap but they get the job done.

    A third option would be to consider digital. I know you say you've already tried that but issues regarding misfocusing and poor exposure are nothing whatsoever to do with whether the camera is digital or analogue. That's down to how well you know how to use the kit you have. Shutter lag on DSLRs is a thing of the past as well.

    I've used digital gear alongside analogue for years. Even a 6 year old Nikon D70 has virtually zero shutter lag and is more than capable of producing excellent images of wildlife. The other good news is that the crop sensor means that if you're using a 300mm lens, it instantly becomes a 450mm lens - a VERY useful tool to have in your armoury.

    Add a 2x converter and crank the ISO up to 800 and you'll still get some excellent quality images on what is effectively a 900mm lens. If you buy a second hand D200 or D300 (quite plentiful and very good value right now) you will have a superb set up.

    Also, the D70, D200and D300 will spot meter, centre weight and average meter - so no more worrying about exposure, and you'll be able to see what you've shot immediately afterwards.

    I'm not being disrespectful to analogue gear as I have more of it than digital equipment, but I bet Eric Hosking would be using digital equipment to shoot birds if he were still alive and Heather Angel and Andy Rouse (two of the best bird / wildlife photographers alive today) use digital gear.

    Analogue equipment is wonderful for most photography but there are times when the ability to see what you've just shot and re-shoot, if necessary, is a distinct advantage as it takes an awful lot of the guesswork out of the process.

    Ultimately, it's your choice.
     
  11. Ralph Javins

    Ralph Javins Member

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    Good morning, Steve;

    Normally I am using something in the range of 300 mm to 500 mm on a 35 mm camera. If I go longer than that, usually it is with a fixed setup when I know where the bird will be, such as a nest hole in the tree trunk, or something similar. Trying to just find something even sitting still with the longer lenses while looking through the viewfinder can be frustrating. It takes a while. The Wimberley tripod head does make a difference in your tracking.

    A Townshend's Warbler has been my most surprising so far. He was in a group of Siskins. That female Pileated Woodpecker has proven remarkably elusive so far. I have almost caught her three times now at the suet feeder. If anything moves, she is gone.
     
  12. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    The Nikon 300/4 is a very good performer. It is well built and travels well. Also has a drop-in filter compartment which I like.

    I see why others are suggesting longer lenses but... that is an argument that can be taken to endless extremes. Use your imagination and your patience and a good prime like a 300mm (maybe with a 1.4 tc) and you will get results that you like. If you later decide that you must have a zoom then go on and get a 200-400 VR, but for now, I'd say get something you can use to get your feet wet, will have other uses (like maybe sports or wildlife) and be confident that the lens will stay in your arsenal even if you do later decide you want something longer.
     
  13. steven_e007

    steven_e007 Member

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    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the link. I've had a look, but alas nothing suitable ATM. I'll keep an eye on them.


    Absolutely, it is to do with manual versus fully automatic. However, whilst a film camera can be either fully manual or automatic or something in between, a digital camera is obligued to be electronic and is therefore invariably designed to be fully automatic :mad:
    The DSLR I used (E-510) is suppossed to have manual functions, but only to impress when reading the specification, I reckon. They are far too fiddly and difficult to access to be used seriously. It may be different with a 'pro' DSLR, but I'm not keen to go down that route.

    I have been in computer engineering for my whole working life (a few decades) so I'm sure I could get the better of a digital camera if I sat down with the manual and studied it - then practiced for a while.
    But I don't want to!
    I spend all my working day messing about with technology, reading manuals and squinting at a computer screen - the very last thing I want to do when I have some leisure time is fight with another blasted electronic gadget! As for shutter lag, I reckon the DSLR I've used still wouldn't touch a decent leaf shutter for response - but I was thinking more of the occassions when the thing decides to hunt around a bit because you've lost the focus lock, beeps some error message at you and then flags up a 'flat battery' icon before the screen goes blank :wink:

    Yes, it's true that digital can be a great tool in the right hands and obviously it has many advantages, but I don't actually need pictures of birds.
    I only take pics for fun, for my pleasure and amusement... and for me digital just isn't fun. I have many years experience of taking pics in a particular way. I'm not saying I'm any good - I think artistically I am a damp squib, just as you'd expect from nerdy technician come hobby photographer, but I am quite competent when it comes to handling a manual camera.

    I want to be in control and I want to think in stops and metres and fractions of a second (and hyperfocal distances and depth of field and, and...)

    Digital cameras infuriate me and make me stressed. :mad: They offer you automation which isn't intelligent, so you have to learn ways of fooling the automatic functions to do what you really want them to do. Madness! I want the camera to fit the skills I already have, not have to become a novice again and re-learn a whole new way of doing things.

    My wife bought an Audi TT last year. Mid life crisis, I think. She test drove the Quattro 'sensitronic' version and I had a go in it, too. Since I was 17 I've driven a car with a clutch and gear stick. Suddenly I have only two pedals, buttons for 'sports mode', 'automatic mode', 'sensitronic mode' and 'flippers' on the steering column to change gear(!) It was exactly the same feeling - a very impressive bit of engineering, I'm sure - but I couldn't get out of the infernal contraption quick enough!!! :surprised:

    No, I think a nice manual focus lens on my film camera and I'll be happy, thanks, whether my pictures are any good or not :D
     
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  15. dougjgreen

    dougjgreen Member

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    Steve, I'm surprised to hear that you didn't enjoy using an E-510 in manual mode. Frankly, I really enjoy using Olympus DSLRs for birding because of the 2X crop factor, and they make really nice manual cameras when a legacy manual lens is used on them. I use my Nikon 300mm f2.8 and my Tokina 100-300 AIS mount lens on my Olympus E-300 and E-1 bodies quite often. Actually, they are quite nice, just set the aperture, set the focus, and leave the camera on Aperture priority automation and let it set the shutter speed - they work quite nicely. This first shot was taken with my E-300 and my Nikon-mt. Tokina 100-300mm lens:

    http://i107.photobucket.com/albums/m288/dougjgreen/Miramar Air Show/MAS-6-small.jpg

    This was shot with my Olympus E-1 and the 300mm f2.8 Nikkor with a 2X teleconverter:

    http://i107.photobucket.com/albums/m288/dougjgreen/birds/Humbird1.jpg
     
  16. narsuitus

    narsuitus Member

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    If I were a serious birder, I would use a 400mm f/2.8 on a Wimberley tripod head.

    Since I am not that serious, I shoot birds with a 400mm f/5.6 on a Wimberley tripod head.
     
  17. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Ooogh I honestly cannot take the oly dslr viewfinders.

    Anyway here is a test snap with a Nikon D200 + mamiya 500mm, manual everything, handheld. Warning/disclaimer, this was a digital product. In my defense, I got rid of the D200 in about 2 weeks. It was a good 1.5 x tc for my lenses, but then I tried a full-frame digital and that was that, for my digital needs.
     
  18. steven_e007

    steven_e007 Member

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    I've only ever used the E-510 with it's own 40-150mm digital zoom.
    I've never tried it on a long manual lens. If I did, I might change my mind - we still have the E-510 so I have that option in the future.

    No, I really didn't like trying to set the shutter and aperture manually - I found it fiddly and awkward and I didn't like the F number sequence being in 1/3 of a stop or whatever that bizarre sequence is or the arbitary shutter speeds.

    F10 at 1/60 second? is that more or less exposure than F7.1 at 1/80? Or F5 at 1/50? It's a struggle for me to deal with these unfamiliar numbers in my head. The camera really needs sticking into a suitable 'mode' - as you say stick it in aperture priority and let it get on with it (then just delete all the underexposed images where it was fooled by the bright back light!)

    I just didn't gel with it... just my personal preference.

    But anyway, let us not make this a digital vs film debate, else we all get banned! :wink:

    I'm hoping for advice to choose a nice long(ish) lens for a Nikon F3!

    PS. Nice pics, I like aircraft, too. Another great use for a 300mm hand holdable lens. The 300mm F4.5 is still looking favourite :D
     
  19. Excalibur2

    Excalibur2 Member

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    ***But anyway, let us not make this a digital vs film debate, else we all get banned!***

    Well I'm a film user and I find your view very interesting.....how do many of the digital guys think how millions of photographers coped, before digital was invented.
     
  20. eddym

    eddym Member

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    Steve, no offense intended, but I don't think the problem is with your camera. If you're not willing to take the time to learn whether "is that more or less exposure than F7.1 at 1/80? Or F5 at 1/50?", then you're not going to be happy using any camera on a manual setting. And a film camera -much as I love 'em- is not going to solve your problem.

    Regards,
     
  21. John Koehrer

    John Koehrer Subscriber

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    I have to agree with Steve.
    Dealing with decimal stops is far different than fractional stops. Especially when the decimal is an LCD display and the fractions are shutter speed dial and aperture ring.
    I guess that's why it's called analog.
     
  22. steven_e007

    steven_e007 Member

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    Yep, that is what people usually say when they are about to be offensive! :wink:

    Please read what I wrote again. I said:
    "It's a struggle for me to deal with these unfamiliar numbers in my head".
    I didn't say I didn't understand them.

    Most of us who are familiar with using a traditional, none electronic, camera tend to think in stops. A typical f number range would be f2.8, f4, f5.6, f8 and so on.

    Shutter speeds might typically be 1/100, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125 etc.

    Most traditional manual cameras may well have half of a stop markings on the aperture ring, but will rarely be marked with the actual value. Shutter speeds, for mechanical reasons are obviously almost never available in between the discrete stop values.

    Those of us who use manual cameras all the time can pretty much automatically change f number and shutter speeds around in our heads for a given EV value and / or film speed.

    My point was, that for f numbers calibrated in 1/3 of a stop and for shutter speeds that seems to be almost arbitary after the 1/3 stops increments have been 'rounded' - that translation in the head is not automatic.

    Be honest, how many people know straight away the difference in exposure between F10 at 1/60 second and F7.1 at 1/80?
    How many people know, without giving it at least a little bit of thought, that F7.1 and F10 are one stop apart?
    To be honest I had to guess F7.1 was 1/3 below f8 and count on my fingers to work the f numbers out - not hard, but not exactly instinctive, either.
    But what about 1/80 rather than 1/60? Is that half a stop? Or a third of a stop slower? Without resorting to a calculator I'm not sure. How many people on this forum carry shutter speed sequences in their head in 1/3 stop values? I'll guess at a third of a stop, since that seems to be what the camera likes to work in, so F7.1 at 1/80th sec is maybe 2/3 stop more exposure than F10 at 1/60th sec?

    I think quite a few other people on this forum might have had to think about that for a few seconds, too. :rolleyes:
    I suspect before digital cameras only the most critical slide film photographers would ever consider working in 1/3 stop increments.

    If I had picked f11 at 1/60 of a second and f8 at 1/125 then pretty much the entire board (I should hope) would have said "There the same!" instantaneously.

    My point was: not that I don't understand f stops and shutter speeds, but that the sequence of numbers that appear in the viewfinder when twiddling the knobs doesn't make the use of a digital camera in fully manual mode very comfortable or intuitive for those of us who grew up with a manual Practica or Zenith E or anything else pre electronic for that matter.

    I started this thread to ask for advice on Nikon lenses and I've received several helpful replies, thanks very much for those, guys.

    But somehow I now find myself having to defend why I personally don't enjoy using digital cameras...

    On APUG?!!! :confused:
     
  23. dbonamo

    dbonamo Member

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  24. dougjgreen

    dougjgreen Member

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  25. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    If it's any comfort to you, I do totally agree with what you said.

    "Analogue" settings usually involve well-recognisable f-stops and shutter speeds; the user can decide (according to brands, ect..) whether and how to set intermediate speeds and diaphragms.

    ...An analogue way of thinking!

    Dealing with values such as f/7.0 and 1/70 shutter speeds requires some (or a great deal of) mental recalculation, not something easily doable on the spur of the moment.
     
  26. dougjgreen

    dougjgreen Member

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    I also agree with you Steven_e007. I think that there's a very significant untapped market out there for an electro-mechanically operating DSLR that would conceptually be like a Nikon FM-class or Olympus OM-class body with a digital sensor. I'd expect that nearly everyone on this forum would love to buy such a thing, if it cost anything close to what a current mid-upper level DSLR cost (i.e. between $1-2K for the body).