Quick opinions on Nikon prime lens for D7000, and reliability of lens review websites

Started Jul 17, 2013 | Discussions thread
anotherMike
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Re: Quick opinions on Nikon prime lens for D7000, and reliability of lens review websites
In reply to EyesHigh, Jul 17, 2013

I wish I had the time to write a better answer, but this is going to have to do for the moment...

First off, yes, prime lenses are fine for any task of photography. In early days (for us old school shooters), prime lenses are pretty much what we used, and learning to shoot with primes is advantageous because it makes us think about our compositions and also to "learn" (visually remember and process) what certain basic focal lengths looked like. Zooms since then have gotten quite a bit better optically; some rival primes, and these days both are used; many of us have a collection of both types in our kits. Prime lenses are often "faster" (wider aperture) which helps with isolating a clear subject in front of a out of focus background (because they are shot at the wider aperture) and to get this look, one really generally needs a faster telephoto prime (a fast 50 isn't really ideal for portraits)

Lens sites and lens testing. I could write a book here, but there is no time. Some quick commentary:

a) Most people are concerned with how sharp a lens is, but there is more to lens performance than sharpness.

b) Most any modern lens is reasonably sharp. So the differences generally aren't of a magnitude where "this lens blows the other away" although we all are guilty of using such language. Remember that in real life there are gradations of quality in everything - it's not strictly a "bad" vs "good", but rather a scale that I might say goes from bad (rare), below average, slightly below average, average, slightly above average and so on. MOST of the time when lenses are discussed, we are discussing differences between slightly above average and excellent. Often the discussions might be about lenses that are between very good and excellent. Just because one shoots with a lens that is "very good" instead of "excellent" doesn't mean the shots won't be good. The lens is still "very good".

c) When we discuss lens performance, we must remember that in the context of real life shooting, there are quite a few things that influence sharpness in an image. We start with the photographer (who is not 100% perfectly steady unless camera is on tripod), and we look at the subject (if it's moving, there will be some blur, just perhaps not enough to notice), and we look at potential  mis-focus (even slight, very slight, can reduce the potential sharpness). All of those things can make a "super sharp best lens ever" lens into a piece of junk from a sharpness point of view. So someone shooting stage shows in low light of people moving, hand held, at ISO 3200; well, to be honest, lens sharpness isn't going to be so much a concern here as someone who runs tripod mounted shooting landscape on a non windy day.

d) Lens test sites can mislead. The biggest problem is that all of the traditional "objective" sites test at one general distance from the test chart, and the test chart is flat (two dimensional) and lit well, without flare. Problem is, real life (the things we shoot), are at varying subject distances, are three dimensional, and light is bouncing everywhere. In the very finest level of granularity of lens quality discussions, lens performance varies often by distance in terms of sharpness. So a lens that tests amazingly (because the lens test site tests at the closer to moderate distance usually used for test charts) may NOT be the best one for someone who shoots things at long distance. Also, lens tests generally are looking at sharpness more than any other aspect. My opinion - as someone who tests for a living in addition to 35 years experience shooting - is that while the lens test sites are helpful, they can NOT be relied upon as the sole determination of the quality of a lens. Better yet is to look at the various sites (photozone probably first - I don't happen to trust DXO as much) and then read as many subjective opinions in the various forums and determine what the CONSENSUS view of the lens is as opposed to looking for the "one solo true answer". Takes more time, but it will give you better info. For example, if you look at the current consensus of the Sigma 35/1.4 "A" lens, it's pretty much agreed this is an extremely good lens. The only slight variance in opinion on this lens comes to whether it's "amazingly excellent" or just "almost excellent" at landscape distances. There isn't a lot of disagreement. But then take the 16-35/4 zoom. Consensus is much wider. Some love it, some don't like it, some (like me) think it's good at a few things but not at others and could have been better. In these latter cases you need to look at what YOU shoot and if it matches up to what the consensus thinks are the lenses strengths. In the 16-35's case, if you loved 35mm focal length, the 16-35 would be a bad lens for you because 35mm is it's weakest (as an exammple)

e) The more complex a lens is (wide angles, wide angle zooms, fast (wide aperture) lenses), the more tradeoffs the lens designer has to navigate. NO lens is perfect - physically impossible. The question often becomes are the tradeoffs those that might impact how a lens TESTS versus how a lens SHOOTS in real life.

As for your 50mm question. There are optical issues with the older 50mm AFD lenses that can lead to a reflection of aperture blades into the sensor - because the lenses were designed prior to digital sensors. Only occurs intermittently at F/11 and beyond, but it happens (it has happened to me). Thus, I recommend one of the modern 50 "G" lenses, and in my own testing, the 50/1.8G was the best, and after owning the 50/1.8 and 50/1.4 AFD and the 50/1.4G and 50/1.8G, I ended up selling all except the 50/1.8G. For 200 bucks, it's a steal.  For a D7000 user, the 35/1.8 DX lens is absolutely worth looking at.

One thing to remember; at the affordable level, you're not getting the "very excellent" lens quality, you're getting "pretty good" and that's good, but don't get too caught up in trying to decide which 300$ lens to buy by over analyzing. Most of the discussions in these forums are about the more granular, smaller magnitude differences between very expensive lenses.

-m

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