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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My Top-5 Lenses

Disclaimer: As any older article, this reflects opinions and ideas of the time it was written - a time that I was still using DX, by the way. Take that into consideration while reading. The lenses mentioned here are as good as they were back then; but other options might have become available since


Let me emphasize this as a first thing. This is a list of my top-5 lenses. I shoot mostly portraits and landscapes (and landscapes not professionally), and these are the lenses that suit my needs. Even if you also are a portrait and/or landscape photographer, your own needs might be best served by something else. The second disclaimer is that this is a top-5 based on value. In absolute terms, there are better lenses than these (and I have used some of them), but if $1000 or more doesn't reflect a difference in quality (again, subjectively speaking), then it doesn't make the cut. My cut, that is :D

(click on the title to go to the review page of that lens)

1. Nikkor AF 50mm f/1.8
It's old, it's ugly-looking, but it's a helluva piece of glass. I got mine for about $50 used (the non-D version), and let me tell you, it's worth triple that amount. Zero distortion, stellar sharpness after f/2.8 (and very good already wide-open), and great working distance for DX, make this my number one choice for most of my portrait assignments. This lens has only one real drawback, the bokeh can be mediocre stopped down. But wide-open it's more than fine, of course, and this lens is often used wide open. The modern variant, the AF-S 50mm f/1.8 G is also a very good lens, but it costs a lot more and it has more distortion.

2. Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/4
If you need macro, forget the AF 105mm, and forget the AF-S 105mm VR. Also forget any other third-party lens - and there are plenty of good ones. These other lenses make sense only if you want the lens also for other uses. If you plan to shoot only macro with it (which requires manual focus and smaller apertures anyway), there is no other lens that can top the performance and ergonomics of this diamond. The sharpness, contrast, and bokeh of this lens are otherworldly.

Whether for flowers or bugs (or both, like in this one), the micro-Nikkor 105mm f/4 is simply superb


3. Nikkor AF 85mm f/1.8
This lens is everything the 50mm f/1.8 is, only at 85mm. It shares so many of the same characteristics. Excellent sharpness and contrast from f/2.8 and very good wide open, zero distortion, amazing bokeh wide-open, but sometimes only fair in smaller apertures. It's also very cheap - especially now the new AF-S version is out. Just like with the 50mm f/1.8, the new model is more expensive - although in this case the newer model is also a bit better. But still, the Nikkor AF 85mm f/1.8 is excellent value.

4. Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6
The older 10-20mm by Sigma is a lens that has stayed with me through the years. I've bought, used, and sold countless of lenses. The Sigma was bought new and I still have it. And I very seriously doubt I will ever sell it, unless if I move to full frame. In absolute terms the lens isn't cheap (in the sense that you must really have actual use for it), but as an ultra-wide lens, considering its build quality, its performance, and its overall functionality, its value is simply stratospheric. Properly used, an ultra-wide lens can help you do things with your camera you never imagined. And the Sigma delivers, again and again, spectacular images. Not once - and I mean not once - have I ever been let down by its performance, whether in terms of optical quality, or focus speed/accuracy. Simply superb.

The Sigma 10-20mm, properly used, can give amazing perspectives

5.Nikkor AF 180mm f/2.8
This is not a cheap lens, let's get it out of the way. But it's not very expensive either - there are plenty of older variants (exactly the same optically) that can be bought for very little money. In any case, when one of the finest Nikkor glasses ever is involved, the money becomes irrelevant. I sold mine because I couldn't justify keeping it, as I have very little use for teles. But the quality of this lens is simply indescribable. Its only flaw is that it needs proper support, but once you take care of that, it gives you amazing contrast and sharpness already from f/2.8. This lens is so good, that I think I will buy one again just for owning one of the best lenses Nikon has ever made - yes, it's that good!


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