Good zoom lens for night photography
Is there a known good lens for taking night shots? It will be landscapes so a zoom lens with 18mm or so on the low end? Using a Nikon D3100.
Any tips on what to look for when buying a lens for this use?
What's wrong with the lens you have? My guess is you do not need a lens, but a tripod, especially since you said it is for night landscapes. If nothing is moving, a tripod will be a better choice than a wider aperture lens.
Is there a known good lens for taking night shots ?
The key here is what the subject is and what you aim to achieve.
It will be landscapes
Landscapes implies a static subject.
You can therefore use a long exposure at base ISO ( or as low as practical ). No special lens required.
Of course to use a long exposure you need some way to stabilize the camera system, typically a good tripod.
You'd normally use a timer or a remote to trigger the exposure, as it gives the camera-tripod system a chance to stop vibrating ( after you handle it ).
so a zoom lens with 18mm or so on the low end? Using a Nikon D3100.
Like a kit lens.
I agree with the previous post. While a f/2.8 is nice, slowing down your shutter speed will do more for you, but it definitely requires a tripod. You should get a good one, which will cost you some $$ (prepare for sticker shock), but will last a long, long time. In addition, you'll want a remote shutter release so that you don't cause vibration just from touching the shutter release on the camera.
Quality glass is always nice to have, but what you want to do is more about using a tripod and understanding certain basic techniques/principles.
I took this picture (fireworks over Baltimore's Inner Harbor, from Federal Hill Park - New Year's 2009) with a Pentax K10D, with the 18-55mm kit lens at 40mm. Exp. 1.6 sec. @ f/8 (manual exposure mode), ISO 100. Bogen 3001 tripod and wireless remote. Lens manually focused at infinity.
This one (Baltimore City Hall - the purple's because the Ravens had made the post-season) was taken later that night, also with the Pentax K10D, and the 18-55mm kit lens, this time at 35mm. Again, Bogen 3001 tripod and wireless remote. Shot in RAW, manual exposure mode, AF disengaged. I took 6 shots - 3 pairs, with each pair consisting of one shot at the nominally correct exposure, and one 2 stops under. Each pair was digitally blended, and the 3 resulting images stitched together to create this final image. I know there are easier ways to accomplish the same thing, but I went with what I knew. It came out okay, which is the important thing.
They're not landscapes, but they are night shots, taken with a zoom lens that went down to 18mm on the wide end, which is what you say you want. I was using a mid-range DSLR and dirt cheap kit lens. The lens wasn't optically remarkable in any way, but particularly when stopped down to f/8, its real world performance was perfectly fine. I doubt whether any shortcomings in the pictures are the result of my not having used better glass. Rather, they're due to my own limitations as a photographer.
Normally, I'd have used a 35mm prime lens for these shots, but I didn't happen to have a 35mm lens with me that night, and I did have the zoom, so...
And I ALWAYS keep my Bogen 3001 in the trunk of my car. Because you never know when a tripod will come in handy. It's my smallest tripod, but it's helped me get the job done more times than I can count.
Any lens will work fine for night photography so long as you use a decent tripod. I was shooting architecture with a 2.8 wide angle two nights ago, but I was stopping down to f/8 and the exposures were 1-5 seconds long. No way I'm shooting handheld!
A faster lens lets you see what is going on and to frame the shot a bit easier, but that is about all.
With landscape style night photography, the lens doesn't matter much at all, nor does even the camera. Good night shots, as others have mentioned, are all about a tripod, low ISO, a long shutter speed, and remote release or self-timer to trigger the shutter. With that combo, even junk P&S pocket cameras with tiny sensors can do a decent job. The only cameras that can't do this well are P&S cameras that don't offer exposures longer than 1 second, which you might encounter on a few cheapies.
The poster above demonstrated that kit lenses are fine for night shots. I'll go even further and demonstrate that even a tiny sensor P&S camera can do a respectable job. The following were taken years ago with a Sony H5, which has a little 1/2.5" sensor and a tiny 12x zoom lens:
The only real reason you'd need a new lens is if you want a wider perspective and your current lens doesn't go to 18mm. But even if you have a basic kit lens, or an ultrazoom lens, you can fire away and take excellent night shots with any DSLR or mirrorless camera. Or even a P&S!
I am just starting out with using a tripod and the one bit of info that I have for you is to turn off the image stabilization on the lens and may be lock the mirror up. Apparently they will both cause vibration in the camera. Should do this every you use your tripod.