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I have the Nikon d5000 camera, and I am looking for some new lenses. I am not quit sure what to get that will service all of my needs, and I would like to know the options before I shell out a lot of money. I currently have the AF Nikkor 55-200mm 1.4-5.6G ED and AF- S Nikkor 18-55mm 1.3.5-6G.

I have been looking at the Nikkor 60mm F/2.8G ED AF-S lens as a close-up and portrait lens. I have also been looking at the Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED AF-S to give me additional reach to capture more distant subjects. I just don't know if there are really any differences between these two lenses and the two lenses I already own. If there are differences, what are they, and how do they better serve my needs?

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3 Answers 3

For portraits, the general recommendation on an APS-C camera (like the D5000) is to go with a wide-aperture lens in the 50-80mm range. That would be either a Nikkor AF-S 50mm F/1.4G or its slightly slower sibling the Nikkor 50mm F/1.8G.

For subjects at a distance, well it really depends how big your subject is. Wildlife for example is usually done with 300mm+ and birding often with 500mm. It also depends whether you are shooting moving subject or in low-light, or worse both at once! If it is only street photography that you are doing, then 200mm can be enough.

One of my favorite lens in that range for wildlife and street-photography is the ultra-sharp Sigma 100-300mm F/4. If you need something faster than look at the twice-heavier Sigma 120-300mm F/2.8. Most birders that I see use the Sigma 50-500mm which has a much more versatile range at the expense of lesser image quality.

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The 60mm macro is a great short telephoto in general, with the added bonus that it's a macro lens, which means you'd be able to get really, really close (within 8 inches) of your subject and still focus. You could use it just fine as a portrait lens (its field of view is right in the middle of the classical 'portrait lens' range). But if you're not planning on getting right in someone's face, you can save some money and also get a brighter lens with the the 50mm F/1.8 (or the more-expensive, faster F/1.4) or the 85mm F/1.8 (if you want something with a bit more reach). Either of those might be more useful for you for general-purpose shooting and portraiture unless you really need the close-focus ability of a macro lens.

The 70-300mm would be a step-up in build and (possibly) image quality from your 55-200mm, and if you're taking pictures of things that are really far away, you'll appreciate the extra 100mm. But it's not really any faster than your 55-200mm at the long end of the zoom range, so unless you think you really need that 200-300mm range (what are you planning on shooting from that far away?), it probably won't really open up a lot of new options for things to shoot. If you find yourself wishing that your 55-200mm was brighter, another option would be the 70-200mm F/2.8, but that's vastly larger, heavier, and more expensive than the lenses you're looking at.

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I'm sorry if this answer is too general for you, but it's not clear to me what you're actually looking for.

More expensive lenses, and primes, have features like:

  • sharper images
  • better build quality
  • wider apertures (helps in low-light situations, but often used for artistic reasons)

and these differences are discussed ad nauseam throughout the Internet so I won't go into detail here.

But when deciding if you want to spend more money on a lens, the best first question to ask yourself is: what is it that I want to do that I can't do with my current lenses? Once you identify that, it should be easier to decide what lens you need to get. You'll also be able to ask a more specific question, or find one that someone else has already asked and had answered. Remember also there really isn't a do-everything lens, so if the two lenses you already have aren't enough for you, you're probably going to start getting into more-specialized lenses.

If you really just want to know what are the differences between two lenses, there are plenty of lens review sites out there that will help you (see Where can I find reviews of lenses?).

So I would really recommend trying to understand better what your lenses are preventing you from doing. You might need to dig a little deeper than just, "my portrait shots aren't good enough," or "that animal isn't big enough," because there can be many reasons why your pictures aren't turning out the way you want, and getting a more expensive lens won't solve them.

Finally, two more non-lens bits of advice:

  • for portraits: you'll want to learn how to use light, which is probably more important than the lens you use.
  • for pictures of distant objects: you'll either want a good tripod or a lens with VR (vibration reduction, a Nikon phrase; also called IS (Image Stabilization) and many other terms) in order to get sharp images, and those get much more important the longer your lens (higher number of mm) gets. Also the best zoom method is your feet: get closer to the object, so that it "fills the frame," and you'll get a better picture.
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