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  1. #1

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    Help with Nikon zoom lenses versus prime lenses plz.

    Hi,

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

    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 )

    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... :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.
    Steve

  2. #2
    Rol_Lei Nut's Avatar
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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...
    M6, SL, SL2, R5, P6x7, SL3003, SL35-E, F, F2, FM, FE-2, Varex IIa

  3. #3
    ann
    ann is online now

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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.
    http://www.aclancyphotography.com

  4. #4
    Allan Swindles's Avatar
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    Zoom or prime, if it's for bird pics. you'll need a minimum of 400mm.
    I'm into painting with light - NOT painting by numbers!

  5. #5
    keithwms's Avatar
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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

    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.
    "Only dead fish follow the stream"

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  6. #6

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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. #7

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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. #8

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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! :o

    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?
    Steve

  9. #9

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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 dougjgreen; 06-16-2009 at 08:10 AM. Click to view previous post history.

  10. #10

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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.
    Paul Jenkin (a late developer...)

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