New Lens Advice


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Jan 7, 2016
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I want a new 50mm ish lens for my D80, I wanting to know, if I would be better off getting a 17-55 or a 50mm 1.8?

Thanks, Taylor
Well, whats your priorities ?

The AF-S 50mm f1.8 or AF 50mm f1.8 will of course be of substantly higher IQ, will offer more light and more shallow DoF.

The AF 50mm f1.8 is the lens Ken Rockwell thinks is the best Nikon lens ever. Its also the most compact Nikon F mount lens with autofocus. Its making a sound when autofocussing, though. OTOH unlike AF-S G lenses it still has a dedicated aperture ring if you like to have that.

A 17-50mm f2.8 with image stabilization from Tamron (? I think thats the one generally prefered over the same Sigma lens, and the Nikon one is just more expensive than the other two but not in any way optically better) is a whole different beast, a bright standard zoom. Many people like that as their standard lens.

Or you actually want a 50mm EQUIVALENT, i.e. a a normal lens. Then that would be the 35mm f1.8 DX. Theres also FX lenses, such as the AF 35mm f2.0 that some people love, if you're planning on switching to FX at any time in the future (used D700 in good condition with the MB-D10 battery grip are already available for ~700$, after all).
I prefer the 35 over the 50 but that is me. I like the versatility of the 35 over the 50 as it lets a little more into the frame on the sides and optically on par with the 50. I love it for landscape, portraits, and street. I own the G version which is not for a full frame but reasonable in price.
@Solarflare makes a good point about your selection if planning on going full frame down the road. I own a Sigma 17-55 f2.8 OS HSM and I can say it is a very useful lens when your in a crowd and it's hard to zoom with your feet. Optically, it is very good. You can't really go wrong with either one in my opinion. Zoom is nice to have but I have found primes to be a tad sharper.
The zoom lens wins on focal length flexibility by a large margin. Sharpness is overrated for lenses used for portraiture or social photography, since framing and focus and having the "right length" for the situation is a huge deal. Frankly, a 50mm lens on a crop-frame camera is mostly a's not the really "right" length as a short telephoto, and it's too long to be a normal, everyday lens, and indoors a 50mm prime lens is flat-out the WRONG length for a huge majority of social photography situations inside of homes and offices--it's simply too LONG, too narrow an angle of view, unless you step wayyyyyyy back.

There's a reason the 16-50 and 17-50 and 17-55mm f/2.8 zoom category is offered by basically every camera maker and every lens maker. The best pictures are usually gonna be shot at f/5.6 as well, and there almost any lens is quite good optically.
I have a Tamron 17-50 2.8f and love it (although right now it's full of dust... grr...). Very versatile, very sharp... also reasonably inexpensive at $275 used, give or take.

I also have the Nifty fifty. A delightful little 50mm 1.8f lens that is tons of fun.

I wouldn't part with either. They both have their place, and neither (IMHO) is a direct replacement for the other.


Not sure what your budget is, but why not both?
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Zoom, for me.
Versatility is the keyword for me so I'd get the zoom. Better to be able to get the shot than miss it as you back into a table and the chocolate fountain goes crashing to the floor.
Hi Taylor! My name is Bailey and I'm a professional wedding photographer. I'm new here, and I just joined because I had a lot of people help me out when I was first starting, so I want to pay it forward!

Okay- when I first started out I emailed a friend who was a professional and a really popular wedding planner this question. She told me to go with a fixed lens, no questions asked. I didn't, for the reasons many here have mentioned. I wanted flexibility in my focal length and I didn't understand how a fixed lens could do that. And I will tell you it was THE biggest mistake I made when starting out and set my work back by several months (I eventually switched to the 50mm fixed). Here's why:

Prime lenses (such as the 1.8) do not zoom. However, their image quality is unbeatable and EVERY professional I know shoots with prime lenses for this reason- using only a zoom lens for the ceremony. The other main reason is that their aperture goes much lower- in your case, down to 1.8. Because I'm a wedding photographer, I love my images to have lots of light and that gorgeous bokeh you hear people talk about. In order to achieve that bokeh and get lots of light in your photos, you need the aperture to open wide (the lower the number the wider the aperture= more light and bokeh). That's the editorial style you'll see in most blogs like Style Me Pretty, etc.

It takes a little bit of getting used to, not having a zoom. You have to move your feet and walk in and out a little bit to achieve your different looks- full length, close up, etc. I think it's worth it for two reasons;": 1) It forces you to be adept and paying constant attention to your focal length and composition. Over time, this made me a MUCH better photographer. I can now shoot an entire engagement session with my 50mm (bringing only my macro for ring shots) and deliver 80+ gorgeous, crisp, light, airy, and versatile photos. It has a little bit of a learning curve, but it forces you not to fall back on zoom and it will keep you on your toes! And 2) The image quality is unparalleled. Completely. Your images will be much more gorgeous with a fixed lens than a zoom lens, and that's a pretty well-accepted fact (look at any of the best wedding photographers and they will say the same thing). Like I said, ALL of my friends in the industry agree on this and use zooms only for the ceremony.

Here's a few questions to get you started thinking:

1) Is your body full frame or crop sensor? If it's a crop sensor, remember it has a 1.6 cropping factor meaning each focal length gets 1.6x closer. That means a 50mm could give you more of a short telephoto look because it's actually closer to an 85nm focal length. With a zoom, this could make it much too like a telephoto lens to work with subjects easily (you'd need to stand way back). If you do have a crop sensor and want the look of the 50mm, you would actually want to consider the 35mm as it will be closer to 50mm when it's on your camera.

2) What do you want to shoot eventually? Landscapes? Portraits? Weddings? A zoom may make more sense for landscape, but for portraits and weddings, the prime is the way to go. Not only because of the image quality, but because the lens has such a wide aperture (meaning it lets in lots of light) it gives you the flexibility you need to shoot weddings with ease since you often work in dark spaces. Being able to shoot with a lower aperture allows you NOT to need to lower your shutter speed (causing blur) or up your ISO (causing noise). This is easily your best bet in ensuring quality wedding photos. Again, that's why this is THE style you see on the best wedding blogs and why all of the most famous wedding photographers who have that fine art style agree on this fact. I cannot stress enough that EVERY photographer I know who has been published in magazines or on blogs or anywhere else will definitely tell you to go with primes except for the ceremony.

And finally:

3) Perhaps most importantly, what style do you want? If you like light airy photos and want to eventually shoot like you see on wedding blogs, know that those types of shots are done with prime lenses (portraits and detail shots). If you want to shoot more landscape, maybe the zoom is the way to go (I don't know, I don't shoot landscape).

In summary, the zoom lens will seem easier at first. The primes can have a little learning curve at first but I promise it's worth it!!! I wish I hadn't waited because it set me back by MONTHS. And in all honesty, learning to move in and out to get your shots helps you think critically about your composition and focal length as its happening.

Because I know it's often hard to blindly take advice without knowing what the results look like, feel free to browse my website a bit ( just to get a sense of what I mean when I am talking about the bokeh effect and light, etc. I like. It's important to recognize styles you do and do not like for your own development as a photographer! My style is often the reasons people shoot for prime- light and bokeh- but that said, you could still up your aperture if you don't like that effect or you want darker, more moody photos- and still get gorgeous photos with a prime. It just so happens that often people want a prime for those capabilities, but that by no means means that it HAS to be your style. The image quality of a prime over a zoom still makes it no contest, in my opinion! So take a look at my work to see what shooting with all primes can look like- for example, I bring tons of focal lengths to my weddings but I shoot my engagement sessions with the 50mm ONLY for my portrait shots and I NEVER have problems getting variety!!!

I know that's a long answer but I hope I was able to do it justice because I believe my 50mm was the best investment I ever made in my business and I believe it can be for other photographers as well, so I wanted to make sure I was thorough. I hope that helps!!!

Bailey Michelle
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Taylor, unless you really do a lot of photography requiring defocused background/foreground images, I would go for the 17-55mm zoom. If you are going to do poster sized prints, portraits , and very low ambient light shots, go for the 50mm f1.8. The zoom will give you much more versatility in composing your images with very little loss of I.Q.. I do not know what proficiency level you have, but what I have said should serve the enthusiast level photographer fairly well. No matter which lens you decide on, you will probably love it.

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