Zoom lenses - how much 'worse'?

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by blockend, Mar 7, 2011.

  1. blockend

    blockend Member

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    Although I own zoom lenses I've always preferred primes for their bright apertures and lighter weight. However the convenience factor of carrying one lens, say a 28 - 85 is appealing.

    How much 'worse' optically is a zoom than a prime lens? I appreciate the question is somewhat subjective but is it a case of a minimal differences two stops down or are primes far superior all the way through, in a way that will register on a 10 x 8 print?
     
  2. Klainmeister

    Klainmeister Member

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    Which camera body are you using?

    EDIT: Which lenses and body are you using. I'm asking because some companies and lens makers do better than others.
     
  3. blockend

    blockend Member

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    I have Nikon and Canon primes and zooms (AF and manual) and various independent zooms, mostly Sigma AF Nikon.
     
  4. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    I personally don't like using zooms. Their convenience is often their downside I feel. You might not be in the best location, but because you have a zoom you can frame the subject. I like being forced to move and get in the right place, plus the large aperture & small size are appealing. But that's my opinion.

    Objectively, lower end zooms will have noticable defects. For instance, I've noticed specific examples of curvature of field. Imagine this picture; a marching band on a field, lined up front to back, creating a line of musicians that recedes into the background and you're focused on the front trumpeter. Well, I have this picture (I wish I had the scan handy at this CPU) taken with a Vivitar zoom and the folks seated in the bleachers behind the band are very strangely curved. It's as though they are seated behind a giant meniscus lens or something.

    So I think that there are noticable faults, but I'm sure that quality zooms will be much better. It's all up to your preferences and needs.
     
  5. Markster

    Markster Member

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    They have some "fast zooms" but they're often a tad pricey. You can find them as fast as f/2.8 for the Vivitar Series 1 (at least, on FD mount, you can -- should have a comparable mount on your Nikkon)

    EDIT: The upside is that because these faster ones are the better lenses, they often have better image quality and less distortion than the knockoff brands. Avoid the fast Sigma 28-90mm range. I've read some bad things about the quality, even though they cost half the price of a Vivitar.
     
  6. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    I have to say, MODERN zoom lenses are quite good. I have Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 and other than visible distortion at 24mm end and it's massive size and weight, I have no complaints. Sharpness, even at wide open, is incredible. I also have 35-135 f/3.5 - 4.5. It's a good lens although not as bright as the former. Comparing both of them to 50mm AFD f/1.8 (that was factory re-calibrated) I'd say both are very comparable under everyday use conditions.

    The only difference is the price, size, and weight. (oh, yeah, distortion and f stop) Unless I need ultra low light capability and lightweight, I'd pick zoom every time.

    Before the computer age, zoom lens suffered a lot due to its complex design and competing design limitations and parameters. Lately, it's not so anymore especially when you are comparing old design prime and new design zoom. Nikkor 50mm (and most primes) hasn't changed much for decades while zoom lens made steady revisions and improvements.

    Frankly, I don't think modern zooms are the way to go except for special applications.
     
  7. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    Though not a zoom fan myself, there are (apparently) zooms in the 28 - 85 range which nearly as good as "good" fixed/prime focal lengths, though that often involves expensive items from Zeiss and Leica.

    Which zooms do you use at the moment and how much worse are they than your primes?

    More modern lenses (even cheap zooms) should be able to handle an 8x10 print decently as far as sharpness goes (at least stopped down a bit), but distortion and other parameters probably won't be as good as a "good" prime.
     
  8. CGW

    CGW Restricted Access

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    For Nikon, I like the 28-70/3.5-4.5AFD as a walk-around lens. Cheap but arguably the sharpest of Nikon's plastic zooms in this range. Used on a late AF body with/without flash, it makes a great high-end p&s rig. Celeb photographer Patrick McMullan used one all the time in his film days on an N90s with a SB-26 flash. Check the lens reviews at www.nikonlinks.com.
     
  9. Toffle

    Toffle Member

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    If you've never read any of Tony Spadaro's rants, now might be a good opporunity. If nothing else, he is mildly entertaining, but in this case he does point out flip side of some of the dogma behind the "zoom with your feet" philosopy. (the links on Tony's site appear and disappear sporadically, but it seems to be up this week)
     
  10. Curt

    Curt Subscriber

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    I wasn't a fan until I bought a new ULF 105:210 zoom for Mamiya 645 for $100.00. It's a fantastic lens.

    I use a tripod all the time with the lens and camera.
     
  11. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    Let me use little more realistic examples...

    Using Nikon platform, I've experimented with Tokina 28-80 f/2.8 lens. This is ATX-280 model. At f/2.8 and blown up to 8x10 size, I could tell it was quite soft at long end, say 50 to 80mm. At wide end, it was good. By f/4.0, it was good all over. I considered this lens unusable between 50 to 80mm when wide open.

    Nikon 35-135 f/3.5 - 4.5 lens... I have not noticed any flaws that bothers me - certainly not at 8x10 size. I really like this lens....

    Nikon 50mm f/1.8, supposedly a great lens. I went though 4 or 5 to pick an OK one but wide open, it was soft. I could tell it was soft at 5x7 even. I had to send it in to get it "repaired". (lens was purchased new) It came back GREAT.

    So it's really which particular lens you are talking about, and variations between samples/pieces can make some difference. I'd say don't shy away from zoom but keep your option to return and get exchange or refund open.
     
  12. film_man

    film_man Member

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    I have a Tamron 28-75/2.8. At 2.8 it is sharper or just as sharp as the 28/1.8, 28/2.8 and even the 50/1.8 I had (it must be am exceptional copy!). Obviously it won't do f/1.8.

    I also had a Nikon 17-35/2.8, when I was using Nikon digital. That was visibly sharper and more contrasty than the 20/2.8 and 28/2.8 Nikkors I had. On the other hand, I also had a Nikon 35/1.8 which simply obliterated it: at 1.8 it was way sharper than the zoom. So it kind of depends, but modern zooms can be very good, even better than some old primes.
     
  13. djacobox372

    djacobox372 Member

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    The newer high-end zooms are quite good, almost as good as prime. However; the older zooms really don't perform well enough to use.
     
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  15. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    Like all blanket generalisations; it depends....
    :whistling:

    Some classic 80-200mm zooms were *very* good, even early on.
    Other older zooms in the 28-85/90mm range can be very good, but were (and still are) pricy.
     
  16. Steve Roberts

    Steve Roberts Member

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    When zooms first became popular they certainly had a reputation (probably deserved) of convenience at the expense of quality. Many people like myself who have been 'into' photography for many years likely still view zooms as having that stigma when in fact it may not be true. I say 'may not' because like the OP, although I have a few zooms, I haven't used them enough to draw any conclusions, usually preferring to 'play safe' and hump around an assortment of fixed focal length lenses instead.
    Steve
     
  17. lxdude

    lxdude Member

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    The Nikkor 80-200/4.5 was famous for its performance. I have an SMC Pentax-M 80-200/4.5 which has given me very good results. My Pentax-M 24-35/3.5 is another solid performer. Old designs, but also limited ranges. In some situations the flexibility is very valuable. Still, for tip-top quality and least distortion I prefer single focal length lenses.
     
  18. Dave Martiny

    Dave Martiny Member

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    I use 3 high quality L series Canon zoom lenses on my 35mm EOS 3: a 16-35, a 28-70, and a 70-200. When I go out looking for pictures, I take all three and everything else I need in a realtively small backpack. I own prime lenses as well, but I mostly use them for portrait work and rarely take them out with me. The image quality I get from my zooms, at the size that I usually print (8x10) leaves little or nothing to be desired.

    The old bromide to "Zoom with your feet" sounds clever and quaint, but it's a lot of crap. I completely agree with the Tony Spadaro rant about this (see the link in Toffle's post). I find using zoom lenses to be of utmost importance in filling my frames and obtaining a strong sense of composition under otherwise difficult circumstances. Consequently, I am able to compose almost entirely with the camera and almost always can then print full frame. When I look at 30 or 40 of my best photos, I realize how difficult, if not impossible, it would have been to obtain many of them if I had to rely only on prime lenses.

    Regards,

    Dave
     
  19. Jeff Kubach

    Jeff Kubach Member

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    I have a couple of Canon FD zooms that are decent.

    Jeff
     
  20. blockend

    blockend Member

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    Thanks for all the replies. The reason for the original question is I want a lens for street work. Currently I use two bodies (occasionally three if I'm shooting colour too) with a lens of 24 or 28mm and a 50mm lens. Obviously street/people photography requires fast reactions to changing situations and picking up the second body takes time and can interfere with the other camera and so on.

    I don't 'see' in extremes like 17mm or 200mm+ so I'm happy to try a lens of modest zoom range. The factors to balance are the extra time tromboning the zoom compared to carrying a second camera. I have a Nikon AF 28-80 3.5 - 5.6 that came as a kit lens but got some exceptionally good write ups and most importantly, is hardly any bigger than a standard lens. A wide aperture would be good but they tend to look and handle like a sports lens, obviously no use for street work.

    The best thing to do is try it and see how it compares with two bodies.
     
  21. vpwphoto

    vpwphoto Subscriber

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    I am a pro.. I shoot 90% or my images on a Nikon D700. My lenses// 105 1.8 AIS, 55 2.8 AIS, and 24mm f2.8 AIS.
    I have a 28-70 f2.8 AF... doesn't get used much... Why... the images are inferior to the above lenses.
    The 70-200 f2.8 AF VR is very nice and does get a lot of use.

    People who are "into" DSLRS always ask why I run 30 year old Nikon lenses on a D700. They don't believe that those old lenses are so much better made than even the modern "prime" lenses.

    BTW... few of the Nikkor's come close to the results of the Hasselblad and Zeiss T* lenses...film or digital.
     
  22. shnitz

    shnitz Member

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    While those primes are incredible, you can get very respectable pictures from zooms. I think that most people would be very happy if they had a prime lens that performed as well as the Nikon 28-70.

    blockend, stay away from the Sigmas. God, they are built horribly. Even if you manage to get a good example, internally they look like a joke compared to other lenses. A zoom's convenience and ability to quickly compose and capture a shot of dynamic subjects may be worth the image degradation. There's a ton of info on the web, but if you're already happy with your zoom, then by all means stick with it.
     
  23. blockend

    blockend Member

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    I have four Sigmas, three bought new and a second hand one. Only the 28mm 1.8 is a good lens.
    I was put off the make when their surfaces disintegrated in storage, melted basically, into a thick gummy texture. The company suggested they'd been in contact with a corrosive substance. All the other lenses in the same drawer were fine. I would not buy another Sigma lens.
     
  24. Athiril

    Athiril Subscriber

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    Don't be put off by silly opinons of bad copies, they're aligned/calibrated for free, and certain lenses in the Nikon and Canon lineup and others are notorious for having bad copies..people having to go through 5 or 6 to get a good one. Sigma make some of the world's best lenses that are unrivalled.

    Depends on the lens.

    Primes simply cannot compare to the Sigma 12-24mm for example. UWA primes have so much distortion and CA to boot. Only the Nikon 14-24/2.8 (or is that 14-28/2.8) tops it.

    And the new Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II is basically perfect @ f/2.8 at all focal lengths that has better resolution than many modern primes.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 9, 2011
  25. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    I assume it also makes excellent coffee and lays a golden egg at least every other day...
    :munch:
     
  26. mr rusty

    mr rusty Subscriber

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    What's "worse"? use what you've got.

    Do Zooms have barrel distortion? Sure - some do. My zuiko F4 35-70 certainly does, but look at my pic of "The Albert" in my gallery http://www.apug.org/gallery1/showimage.php?i=50587&catid=member&imageuser=35532.

    IMO the barrel distortion makes this image with the modern concrete and glass looming over the isolated old building.

    I've tried perspective straightening this, and it totally loses its impact.