Not *super* happy with my Nikon 16-85mm VR

PaulWog

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I picked up a Nikon D5200, Nikon 16-85mm VR lens, Nikon 35mm 1.8G, and Nikon 70-300mm VR over the past month. I got the 70-300 just a week and a half ago and I've been enjoying it (I got a lot of nay-says to it, but I couldn't be more happy with it).

As a beginner, I have a few questions:

- I'm not too happy with my 16-85mm VR lens. In poor lighting it's not good, and in medium lighting it ends up not being too great either. When compared with my 35mm 1.8G, the difference is night and day quite often. I think the 17-50mm f2.8 lenses are too tight of a focal range though, and I might as well use a pair of 35mm and 50mm primes (of which I already have one). I don't particularly like bumping the ISO above 3200, and often times I'll only get a 1/30 second shot at ISO 1600 or something, and end up having a terrible throw-away photo.
- However, in nice daylight (ex. a trip to the beach), the 16-85mm feels like an entirely different lens. The aperture limitation doesn't end up being an issue since with landscape shots I want everything crisp and in focus. For shots of other people in walk-arounds, I don't want a shallow DOF or huge amounts of bokeh (just a bit of it to make it look good), since I want the actual place to be recognizable and details to show up -- and the lens offers all of that. In good bright daylight, the lens shines beautifully.
- The 70-300 I have seems to do better in lower light despite being in the same aperture range, which baffles me. Is the VR on it just better?
- So, I'm curious about what I should do: I would like to have a zoom for medium-low light that I really enjoy, but if I were to buy anything else it would end up replacing the 16-85. I've found the 35mm to be a great all-around lens, though I wish I had a full-frame 50mm perspective on some shots (and I often don't want to be walking around with a 50mm since that 1.5x DX shift ends up being too much zoom in walk-arounds).

I know I'm new and I need to use my gear more, but I'm just curious about upgrade paths, what I should look at in the future, what lenses would make sense to eye up and decide whether I would use them (constant aperture zooms are expensive but are so nice), etc. Would I be better off simply enjoying what I have and accepting low-light limitations, sticking with primes for that low light, and then getting a full-frame in the years to come if it bothers me? Or are there good options and alternatives?
 

Derrel

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Well, in truly "low light", lenses of f/1.4, f/1.8 or f/2 are advantageous. Lenses like 24/1.4, 28/1.8, 35/1.8, 50/1.8, 85/1.8--all of those lenses are really helpful when push comes to shove. A zoom lens that opens up to only f/4.5 or f/5.6 for example, is pretty lame in poor light.

By comparison with an f/1.4 lens, an f/2.8 zoom lens is pretty "slow" when the most important criterion is sheer f/stop. By comparison, an f/5.6 maximum aperture zoom is pathetically inferior the when most important thing is sheer f/stop.

APS-C cameras like yours give a bit more in-focus than FX cameras do at a given picture angle of view, which I think is often a "plus". In terms of bang-for-buck, the 17-50 f/2.8 3rd party lenses are pretty good. The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is a good value, and so is the Nikkor 50/1.8 G-series, and the 28/1.8 G, is very good but not "cheap: the 50/1.8 G is pretty low-cost and quite good; the 85/1.8-G is an excellent,excellent lens and a fantastic value.
 
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PaulWog

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Well, in truly "low light", lenses of f/1.4, f/1.8 or f/2 are advantageous. Lenses like 24/1.4, 28/1.8, 35/1.8, 50/1.8, 85/1.8--all of those lenses are really helpful when push comes to shove. A zoom lens that opens up to only f/4.5 or f/5.6 for example, is pretty lame in poor light.

By comparison with an f/1.4 lens, an f/2.8 zoom lens is pretty "slow" when the most important criterion is sheer f/stop. By comparison, an f/5.6 maximum aperture zoom is pathetically inferior the when most important thing is sheer f/stop.

APS-C cameras like yours give a bit more in-focus than FX cameras do at a given picture angle of view, which I think is often a "plus". In terms of bang-for-buck, the 17-50 f/2.8 3rd party lenses are pretty good. The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is a good value, and so is the Nikkor 50/1.8 G-series, and the 28/1.8 G, is very good but not "cheap: the 50/1.8 G is pretty low-cost and quite good; the 85/1.8-G is an excellent,excellent lens and a fantastic value.

I can see the Sigma 17-50mm f2.8 and the 85mm 1.8G both being highly useful. I know I'd shoot with both of those lenses all the time. I think I'll like the shots on an 85mm prime a lot better, but I know I'd find a constant f2.8 17-50 zoom lens to be highly useful. So, in the end, I think I'd use either lens just as much as the other, and I'd probably pack both around with me constantly.

So the question really is which should I prioritize given what I already have. Would a 35mm prime and 85mm prime satisfy my low light requirements over a Sigma 17-50mm. I'm thinking the answer is yes, and that I should lean toward an 85mm prime. This would also leave me with value for if I ever upgrade to full-frame, since I could carry that 85mm over with me.

I won't be making any purchases (or sales of lenses I own in order to fund purchases) at least until the end of this year. I need to get a lot of shooting done. I've probably tacked on about 6000 shots on my camera practicing with it already (I'm slowing down now since I don't want to hit that 100k-rated mark before 2 years are up), so I feel well-practiced to take shots in real-world scenarios. I've only gotten to do a couple beach days out for real-world scenarios with what I've got. My first camping trip with the camera I was still learning so most of those shots turned out pretty bad (I thought shooting at the lowest aperture was a good idea even for landscapes and didn't take into account the benefits of stopping down to something like f9 or so for a 16mm/24mm-equiv shot of the lake).

Thanks for the input. Greatly appreciated.

p.s. -- How would the 50mm 1.8G compare to the 85mm 1.8G? Is there just a difference in focal length and that's it? I'm trying to gauge the price difference... and decide if 35mm and 50mm are too close together. I know what the two focal lengths look like, but I'd really have to own the primes to know if the pair would be redundant... looking at the two focal lengths on a zoom with an inferior aperture doesn't really provide me with a good comparison since the way I shoot shifts a bit between a zoom's aperture and a prime's aperture.
 

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