Where do I go from hear? (gear question)

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NikonNature
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Where do I go from hear? (gear question)
9 months ago

I have a dilemma and was hoping some who have gone through a similar process might share their experience...

Brief background: I have been shooting for about 5 years. My initial interest was birds, so for landscapes and other subjects I just got by with the kit lens. In time, I got more interested in landscapes, waterfalls, sunsets, etc. and replaced the kit lens with the Nikon 18-200 (original version). This has proved very versatile, but seems a little lack luster in image quality. So in short, I want to get more vibrant, punchy, contrasty, higher IQ landscape images. How do I achieve that without breaking the bank?

Full frame – I would prefer this route, but cannot justify the cost. It would require a body plus lenses and I can't see how to do that for less than $3000 (or even $2000 for used gear).

DX approach - I still love my D300s and I still shoot birds a lot, so just buying better lenses looks like the way to go... but which lenses? I tried a 50mm 1.8G. They let me take some test shots outside the store, which I then duplicated with my 18-200 set to 50mm and the difference was amazing. Sharper, less noise, richer colors, etc. By comparison the images from my 18-200 looked like I was shooting through haze.

I would consider going with primes, but what combination would make for a usable kit. I reviewed 50 or so of my favorite images and they range from 18mm to 120mm, with the majority in the 24-70 range (that’s from EXIF, not converted to FF figures). The Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 would be great, but would take me a while to save for it. The 24-120 f4 gets good, but mixed reviews, and its f4 and not that much cheaper. The 35, 50, and 85mm primes are reasonable, but don’t cover the wide end. I could mix the Sigma 18-35 f1.8 with primes, but the combined price is approaching the 24-70. What to do?

As you can see, I am bouncing all over looking for the best IQ at a reasonable price. For the sake of argument, let’s say I had a budget of $1200. What would you recommend? In your own photographic journey, what made the biggest improvement in your landscape photography (aside from skill)? Comments on zooms vs primes, and full frame vs crop bodies are all welcome. Even I could go full frame I will probably stick with Nikon because my 300mm f4 is a good birding lens, but if there are compelling reasons to consider Canon I would like to hear that too. For lenses, I would consider Nikon and third party lenses.

So for the long winded saga. Looking forward to your input.

 NikonNature's gear list:NikonNature's gear list
Nikon D300S Nikon D610 Nikon AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4D ED-IF Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-17E II
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Nikon D300S
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