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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

5 Most Underrated Nikon Lenses

Today's article is directly connected with value (read this when you have time). If you are reading this article flying in your private Learjet, going somewhere to make a multi-million dollar deal, this doesn't concern you. Buy the most expensive lenses you can find - then keep reading my website to learn about photography ;)

For most of us, however, value is something we really need to take into consideration. Our budgets can perhaps stretch a bit, but only within reason. Many of us are even struggling. Every cent counts. Unfortunately, as you might have discovered yourself, the usual reviews you find on the Internet, the usual websites that tell you whether a lens or a camera are good enough, seem to be made having the rich people in mind. To an extent, it is normal - photography can be (but not necessarily) a very expensive hobby. A website reviewing a $200 lens will certainly find flaws that do not exist with a $1400 one.

The real deal, however, is this: To which extend does it matter for photography?
As you well know (read how AmateurNikon began if you haven't done that yet), I don't care about diagrams and numbers. I (as well as my paying clients) have certain expectations from my equipment. But I have never, ever, made a purchasing decision based on how a shot of a diagram looked. I care about the end result which should always be a photograph.

Today's article will give you a list of which, in my opinion, are Nikon's 5 most underrated Nikkor lenses. What do I mean by that? Lenses that for one reason or another are considered of fair or even low quality, yet, all things considered, can offer you stunningly superb results. You see, when a lens has flaws, it means only one thing: you need to learn how to go around them.

1. Nikon Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-f/5.6G

Yep, the plastic-it's-fantastic little G. This poor thing has been called names since the beginning of time. "Useless", "Crap", "Toy", and what not. Well, guess what? I've taken photos with it that rock. Sure, it's a daylight lens. Yep, 300mm wide-open is a bit soft. I hear ya, it doesn't have VR. Aye, no fast autofocus either. But honestly, it's a better lens than what reviews let you believe. Heck, it's a better lens than most of us - that is, our individual flaws in our technique holds us back way more than the lens.

Although it's mostly a daylight lens, it's way sharper than the reviews let you believe.

2. Nikon Nikkor AF-S VR 24-120mm f/3.5-f/5.6

Yep, this is hailed as one of the worst AF-S Nikon lenses. Reviews trash it. Indeed, I can't pretend it's a stellar lens - you'd expect more from Nikon (which did deliver with the replacement, the 24-120 f/4). But all things considered (=price), this is a way better lens than you'd imagine. Again, it's a daylight lens - although, in this case, VR also helps with lower light, in some conditions. But guess what? Did you really expect to use a slow, consumer midrange zoom as an indoor sports lens? It all boils down to scope. If you need a cheap, 5x zoom, with VR & AF-S, for casual & travel shots (=isn't that how a consumer midrange zoom is meant to be used?), then basically there's nothing wrong with it. The new 24-85 VR is better in all aspects, but it's also more expensive (and the 24-120 f/4 even more expensive). Used copies go for as little as about $200 - that's a steal, in my book.

3. Nikon Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-f/5.6

You might feel this is a puzzling entry. This is not, generally speaking, a lens that is considered useless, like the above two. But, on the other hand, nobody pays much attention to it nevertheless - particularly to the older, non-VR versions. With the 18-140, the 18-200, the 18-300, and even the 18-105, the 18-55 seems underwhelming. Well, big mistake! With the newer VR versions in the market, this can be bought at very competitive prices - new/refurbished and, particularly, used. The lowest I've found this lens is $30, and let me tell you, it is worth triple that amount. You get a 3x zoom for your DX camera (and a 2x, 24-55mm emergency FX, too!) that also works as a closeup lens with a reproduction ratio close to 1:3. It's also very small and light. Image quality might not be as great as a prime (I'm thinking of the awesome Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 right now), but it can definitely hold its own - between 24-50mm @f/8 you'll be very hard-pressed to see any difference with way more expensive lenses

4. Nikon Nikkor AF-S 55-200mm f/4-f/5.6 VR

Same story as with the 18-55. Ever since the 55-300 (and the newer 55-200 VR II) models came along, this one was no longer as hot as the first days it showed up. Well, guess what? It's still the same lens. From 55mm to about 150mm, and especially stopped down to f/8 it's breathtakingly brilliant. For about $150 for a refurbished copy, with guarantee, it's a steal. Way, way better than 3rd party lenses of the same category/price. The 55-200 VR is a stunning lens for those who understand its limitations.

Taken with the 55-200 VR. Won 2nd place at a local competition.

5. Nikon Nikkor AF 70-210mm f/4

Yet another lens that is all but forgotten now. In addition, it's considered (and, to an extent, rightly so) weak wide-open at 210mm - so, where you need f/4 the most. Is it a bad lens? Is it a lens that has no place in your bag? Let me put it this way: If you want an autofocus f/4 constant tele zoom, your next option is more than $1000 more expensive. Sure, you can spend a few hundred more and get a third party 70-200 f/2.8 - which is though heavier and far larger. Bottom line: for about $175, you get an autofocus constant f/4 Nikkor that takes you from 70mm to 210mm. That's not something to dismiss so quickly, in my opinion.

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