Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thoughts on Buying Nikon Lenses (FX): Part 3

Over the last few days I posted about wide angle and standard range lenses for Nikon FX (full frame) DSLRs. In today's post I'm going to focus on telephoto lenses, including the Nikon 85mm primes, 70-200mm F2.8G VRII, 105mm F2.8G VR Micro and the 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G VR.
Nikon AF 85mm F1.8D, Nikon AF 85mm F1.4D, Nikon AF-S 85mm F1.4G - These three Nikon 85mm primes give FX shooters a lot of choices when it comes to both image quality and price. The 85mm f1.8D gives users a low cost (just over $400) option for shooting portraits, while the f1.4D and G give users superior image quality at wider apertures at differing price points. For a working professional photograph who shoots a lot of portraits, owning one of the f1.4 85mm primes is almost a given, unless you prefer the versatility of the 70-200mm F2.8G VRII zoom, although some would have both. All three of the 85mm Nikkors offer decent image quality and throw the background out of focus rather nicely, but they all have one major weakness. That weakness is chromatic aberrations, which can be removed in post processing in many cases, but in other cases there is nothing you can do about it. All of them also suffer from softness in the corners, although the F1.8D seems better in that regard than the f1.4 primes.
You could also consider the Sigma 85mm F1.4 HSM, but personally I would hesitate to do so, because there is always the question of quality control when it comes to Sigma equipment. The Sigma is said to have less chromatic aberrations than the Nikon 85mm F1.4 primes. The cost of the Sigma is on par with the 85mm F1.4D, and as such is less expensive than latest 85mm F1.4G, while having slightly better image quality than the 85mm F1.4D.

Nikon AF-S Micro Nikkor 105mm f2.8G VR - The Nikon 105mm f2.8G micro is likely the ideal macro lens for many photographers who want to shoot things at 1:1 life size. The AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm F2.8G is a more affordable lens, but you have to be very close (5cm) from your subject, which isn't ideal in some situations. Like most Nikon micro lenses the 105mm VR is very sharp, even wide open, and offers extremely good resolution, even on cameras like the Nikon D3X with a 24MP sensor. Another nice aspect of the 105mm F2.8 VR is that you can use it as a portrait lens (be prepared to soften the skin of your subject in post processing), and as a macro lens, which could save you from having to buy several lenses.

Nikon AF-S 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G IF-ED VR - The 70-300mm VR represents Nikon's attempt to make an affordable telephoto zoom for Nikon shooters. Like most lenses that try to "do it all" there are some short comings, mainly in the area of having a variable aperture, and softness at 300mm. Considering the price, and focal range, of this lens, neither of those shortcomings are anything to complain about. The primary advantage of this lens in the zoom range it offers, without weighting over 1kg, or costing an arm and leg (the 200-400mm F4 VR could cost you a liver). There isn't much else to say about this lens, other than that it would serve well as a telephoto lens for traveling. It could also be the ideal solution for an FX shooter who doesn't use a telephoto lens very often. Buyers may also want to consider the Tamron 70-300mm F4-5.6 VC USD.

Nikon 70-200mm F2.8G VRII - This lens is the last member of the "holy trinity" of Nikon F2.8 zoom lenses (including 14-24mm f2.8G, 24-70mm f2.8G and 70-200mm f2.8G). The 70-200mm VRII is a lens that offers photographers a decent zoom range, and a bright wide aperture with narrow depth of field. This makes the 70-200mm a great lens for portraits and many other applications. Most pro Nikon photographers that I have talked with have this lens, or the previous 70-200mm F2.8G IF-ED VR, due to the flexibility that it offers. The 70-200mm VRII offers excellent image quality across the zoom range, and is arguably better than it's predecessor in some areas. Primarily the areas in which is has been improved are, reduced vignetting, and the ability to focus closer.

That flexibility and excellent performance comes at a steep price, both in terms of cost (currently $2100 Cdn) and in weight, which is 1.54kg. To me that weight is manageable, but for some, one of the 85mm primes or 105mm VR might be easier on the pocketbook, and on the arms. The 70-200mm VRII also suffers from what many internal focusing lenses have, which is that the focal length of the lens changes as you focus on closer subjects. That might not sound like a big deal, but it can effect how you frame your subject if you have to change focusing distances often. That problem aside, the lens is likely well worth the price for many working pros and amateur photographers.