Having problems choosing a prime (Nikon)

Discussion in 'Photography Equipment & Products' started by Samriel, Jul 2, 2008.

  1. Samriel

    Samriel TPF Noob!

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    I have a Nikon D80, a Tamron 17-50mm 2.8, Tokina 100mm 2.8 and a 70-200 cheap tele-zoom from the 80s. I've gotten into "serious" (meaning thinking about how, what and why I'm shooting) photography recently and have been shooting a bit of everything (sports, events, people on the street, portraits, nudes, landscapes, buildings etc.). I prefer portraits (studio and outdoors) and nudes (fine art, abstract etc. - still experimenting), but I find the lenses i currently own lacking. So I started looking into some affordable primes (only full frame lenses) and got stuck with 4 lenses (all Nikon):

    • 35mm f/2 ~USD260
    • 50mm f/1.8 ~USD150
    • 50mm f/1.4 ~USD250
    • 85mm f/1.8 ~USD290
    I'm quite set on the 35mm (need it for the wider shots) ,but I want to get one more lens for classic portrait work. The 85mm has some nice reviews, but peoples opinion on the bokeh is quite split. If I go for 50mm, which one? Is the 1.4 better than the 1.8 for portraits (bokeh)? I'll probably go to the store and test the lenses on my D80 one of these days. I'll try to post some pictures then. Until then, I'd like to hear your experiences with these lenses, and some photo samples at max. or near max. aperture would be very appreciated.
     
  2. Mav

    Mav TPF Noob!

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    Well I've owned all 4 of these personally, and the only one I still have is the 50mm f/1.4D. But take that like a grain of salt because for all I know our styles might be totally different.

    I loved the focal length of the 35mm, but for the natural light shooting I was doing indoors, when it came down to it f/2 was just plain too slow and I couldn't get the shutter speeds I needed at any reasonable ISO on my D80. Same thing with the 50mm f/1.8D. That's a fantastically sharp and contrasty little lens which looked better off the camera than the 35mm f/2, but a little too long and not quite flexible enough, and the bokeh was ugly. The 85mm f/1.8D was great too, but again the bokeh. Yuck. Some people confuse ability to isolate a subject and get a tight depth of field and "bokeh" as being the same thing when they're not. All of these can deliver very tight depth of field, but bokeh specifically refers to HOW the out of focus area light points are rendered. The 50mm f/1.8D and 85mm f/1.8D both have quite ugly and harsh bokeh that has well defined edges and a "rolled condom" sort of look. That's NOT what you want for creamy smooth backgrounds and you really have to be careful. You can get creamier looks, so long as you don't have any brighter light points or a complicated pattern in your background. I would have kept the 85mm f/1.8D, but for tighter head shots that I like to get, the 105 or 135mm primes are much better, and again the ugly bokeh on Nikon f/1.8 lenses these days. The 85 makes you get too close for my tastes, but take that like a grain of salt too because everybody has varying comfort levels for how close they mind getting for tighter head shots. The 85mm f/1.4D which I have NOT owned or shot with has much nicer bokeh and is one of Nikon's very finest lenses. But it's $1000. :lol: I may still buy one of these one day, but I don't love the 85mm FL enough to warrant spending that much money.

    So now I have the 50mm f/1.4D. It gives me the extra bit of speed I need to get those indoor low light shots, the bokeh is nice and creamy and not distracting at all, and I just deal with the fact that it's a bit shorter than I'd like for some shots. It's a nice short tele on my D80, and a fast "normal" prime on my F100 film camera so it gets good use. The only thing I don't like about the 50mm f/1.4 is that it has contrast wash out issues when you point it into brighter light sources, as do a lot of other f/1.4 prime lenses. This is the ONLY lens where I actually use a hood, and it does seem to help a bit. I've been getting better results with this lens since I've started using a hood.

    Bokeh, it goes like this:

    35mm f/2D: OK, neutral to slightly harsh in a very harsh test
    50mm f/1.8D: ugly
    50mm f/1.4D: nice and creamy
    85mm f/1.8D: ugly
    85mm f/1.4D: nice and creamy.

    In fact on another forum the 85mm f/1.4D has the nickname of "Cream Machine". It also delivers marvelous skin tones. The bokeh on the other lenses was pretty much a known quantity elsewhere except for the 35mm f/2. I had one and just happened to do a comparison and posted it once upon a time so here's what it looks like. This was an EXTREMELY harsh test that will really exaggerate this.

    35mm f/2 @ f/2
    [​IMG]


    35mm f/2 @ f/2.8
    [​IMG]


    35mm f/2 @ f/4
    [​IMG]


    35mm f/2 @ f/5.6
    [​IMG]

    For the most part, edges are not sharply defined with a "ring" look, but they don't fade out smoothly either. So overall I'd rate it as fairly neutral, which is good enough for my purposes. I avoid any lenses that have harsh bokeh characteristics.

    If portrait work is mainly what you're after, I'd consider just getting a "Beast", Nikon's AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8 lens. This is the discontinued previous version of the current 24-70mm f/2.8G, but the reason I'd recommend trying out a 28-70 is because it's said to have even better skin tone rendering than the current 24-70. It's also a lot cheaper and fairly easy to find used.
     
  3. Mav

    Mav TPF Noob!

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    Coincidentally, here's a thread elsewhere on the 50mm f/1.8.

    http://www.nikoncafe.com/vforums/showthread.php?t=176223

    In the last photo, #6, you can clearly see how the bokeh rendering is getting on the ugly side with sharp and well defined edges on the bokeh. This is definitely different from the 35mm f/2 which is on the neutral side, and even in my ultra severe test didn't get this bad. If you have enough of that in your background surrounding a face, it'll be distracting and ruin the portrait which is why I sold it.
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2008
  4. Mav

    Mav TPF Noob!

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    And then here's a bokeh sample from the 85mm f/1.8D from that other thread today, this at f/1.8. This is a 100% crop from a larger image, and the ugliness here was distracting in the full image and really took away from the shot IMHO. I don't have the full image hosted, but if you want I can dig it up and post it.

    [​IMG]


    eeeeeeewwww
     
  5. Mav

    Mav TPF Noob!

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    And then here's a sample of the 50mm f/1.4D bokeh. This is a crappy shot and not even in the keeper pile by any means, but it shows the bokeh rendering and it's wide open at f/1.4

    [​IMG]


    much much nicer than the f/1.8 version with none of the ugly harshness.
     
  6. icassell

    icassell TPF Noob!

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    Just curious -- what have you found lacking about the 17-50 (although I know it is not in the same camp as a fast prime, I have found it a wonderful walk-about lens)?
     
  7. Senor Hound

    Senor Hound TPF Noob!

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    I don't have one now (I did a long time ago, though), but I strongly suggest a 50mm f/1.8. Unless you really are tough on your lenses or do a LOT of portrait shots (both where the 50mm f/1.4 would be an advantage), I would say go with the 50mm f/1.8. But I do have to have a disclaimer that I've not tried the others in the list. So before I'm accused of being a troll, I'm only telling you what I would do if I had the same dilemma as you.

    But I do have a crush on the 85mm f/1.8... I find a lot of the shots I take to be at the magical 135mm mark (full frame), so I think when I get my DSLR that this would be sweet. But I personally wouldn't get one without having a 50mm f/1.8 first. They're too inexpensive not to own! :)

    I hope you find what you're looking for, and remember, don't accidentally buy grey market (imported). Sometimes even the best camera websites aren't crystal clear about what you're getting
     
  8. Trenton Romulox

    Trenton Romulox TPF Noob!

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    I have the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 and absolutely love it. I don't use it a whole lot, but when I do, it never disappoints.

    I was able to dig up a shot from it @ f/1.4. I think I might have sharpened this a bit though, so the bokeh isn't as creamy as the original.

    [​IMG]

    I'd recommend the 50mm f/1.4, for its bokeh more than anything. 85mm may be a better length for you, but really, you can always walk or crop for that extra 35mm, but you can never recreate an f/1.4 bokeh with an f/1.8.
     
  9. Sw1tchFX

    Sw1tchFX TPF Noob!

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    I like the 85, the 50 is just too short for me.
     
  10. Samriel

    Samriel TPF Noob!

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    Mav, Thanks a lot for all the pictures and comments, really gives me a much better idea of what I'm looking at. The 50mm 1.4 does seem to have a nice creamy bokeh.

    Curse Nikon for not making any new portrait primes in almost 15 years... I was so hoping they would release some portrait primes with the D700, not the PC-E lenses. Can't wait any longer for new lenses - at the moment I'm tending toward the 35mm f/2 + 50 f/1.4 combo. I could get the 85mm 1.4 later when I have more money and go full frame (hopefully by December 2009). More opinions and pictures are welcome!

    It IS a wonderful walk around lens - it's on my D80 most of the time, and I have really nothing to complain about (vignetting at 17mm 2.8 can be a problem sometimes though). However with the portraits and nudes I want to take I need a more shallow DoF that it can offer. As you said, it's not in the same camp. The 100mm is better here, but the working distance is too long for me at the moment.
     
  11. Mav

    Mav TPF Noob!

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    Just as a comparison point, here's what I'm using for most of my portrait work now, at least on digital. My 18-135DX kit lens. It's only an f/5.6, but as you can see in this full image, it definitely has some nice bokeh characteristics. And you can still get a relatively tight depth of field despite it only being an f/5.6 because at 135mm and close range your depth of field is already going to be pretty thin regardless of aperture.

    [​IMG]


    Ken Rockwell also has a great 85mm bokeh comparison page on his site that's definitely worth checking out. He compares the 85mm f/1.4 there, and as you can see in the wide-open section it's easily the creamiest lens there is bokeh wise in that comparison group.
     
  12. Mav

    Mav TPF Noob!

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    Join the club on that one! :roll:

    The other reason I sold off my screw-driven primes is because I was quietly hoping for updated AF-S versions that would be fully compatible across Nikon's lineup incluidng the D40/D60 cameras. I have a D40 as well. On the consumer level DSLRs including the D200/D300, the in-body AF motor just isn't powerful enough to yank these screw driven lenses around quickly enough if you're trying to track an erratically moving kid, hence wanting newer AF-S versions that won't depend on how strong any body based AF motor is for focus speed and tracking. Obviously Nikon has been serving the pro market first with all of the super teles and now the PC-E lenses, which are of little interest to me. One can only hope they'll eventually get around to updating their more normal length primes, but in the meantime Sigma has an ever growing lineup of HSM primes including their new 50mm f/1.4 HSM. I don't think focusing speed or tracking will be an issue for you, though. But I definitely need all the focusing speed I can get for chasing my daughter around. :wink:

    Yet another thing that peeves me about Nikon's prime lineup is that the Canon f/1.8 primes like their 50mm and 85mm lenses are said to have nice bokeh, AND they're cheaper (although I hear they're pretty cheaply built too). The Canon 85mm f/1.8 has nice bokeh and it's only $300 new. The Nikon 85/1.8 has ugly bokeh and is $400 new. :x
     

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