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I'm about to buy a D700 Nikon (no, NOT D800). I have no Nikon equipment at all. I'll initially be retaining my "main" Sony based system while I get the D700 'up to speed'. In time I expect to have to spend real money on lenses.

Initially I just want a lower cost lens or few to play with to explore the D700's capabilities. Applications are not too specific to start. I want a superior lens for a beer-budget price, not a kit lens. (One can always hope) .

Q: What relatively low cost lenses suited to a D700 are liable to represent very good value for money. Are there some undervalued classics that are cheap and superb?

Something excessively sharp [tm] for the money would be nice.

eg a Sony buyer might be pointed to the old Minolta "beercan" or "mini-beercan"

An entry level 50mm will probably happen soonish.

As an example this Nikkonians webpage seems to be addressing my question. Latest date is 2012 but it sounds like it may have been written a considerable while ago. He's talking about MF lenses, which may be acceptable for playing, and which will generally offer better value per optical ability. But I'd probably lean towards AF even for this purpose. IS / AS is a bonus that I don't really expect at this level.

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This is really vague and, as you said it, subjective. We have no idea how much beer-budget you have either. Try a Nikkor 35mm F/2D for starters or other older prime. Might have to stop it down more than something top-of-the-line. –  Itai Aug 21 '12 at 22:58
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We have more threads that recommend the 50mm f/1.8 as the best bang for your buck on any format then I can even count. So that should answer your question? Unless you have a specific budget and needs then we can only be as specific as that. –  dpollitt Aug 22 '12 at 0:15
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If I get specific I'll miss the secret gems you know about. What's really cheap and really good :-) ? I noted that an entry level 50mm will probably happen soonish. eXAMPLE: in the Minolta lineup there are old mid range well priced zooms that excel. The "beercan is a 25+ year old 70-210mm f/4 . Here's a comparison test with a more modern Canon 70-210mm From about $150 on ebay. 4.55/5 user ratings on 339 REVIEWS! –  Russell McMahon Aug 22 '12 at 0:44
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Interestingly, I own both the Minolta beer-can and the Canon 70-200 F/4L (Non-IS) and indeed they are both excellent despite the price difference. Unfortunately I do not have adapters to mount them on the same camera, so I cant tell which one is absolutely better. –  Itai Aug 22 '12 at 2:50
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The problem with AF Nikkors is that they just don't drop in price very much unless they're not very good lenses, especially on eBay—people have this horrible tendency to bid them up to just a little more than they ought to be worth (autobid wars, mostly). You can usually do at least as well at KEH. And many, if not most, of the best of them are still current; the prices tend to reflect that. –  user2719 Aug 22 '12 at 7:57

7 Answers 7

You should really consider MF lenses. I started with kit lens on a D90, and then, bought some mid level lenes, like the 24-120 f/4 (which I love). I moved to a D700, and was able to reuse most of my lenses (sold the ones that were DX). But frankly, the lenses I have (VR, AF, zoom, ED) are pretty expensive for the performance (you get what you pay for). Don't get me wrong, I love the lenses, but I wouldn't call any of my lenses beer budget.

OTOH, I did start dipping my toes into MF lens. I read some reviews from people like Ken Rockwell, and was able to pick up a 28mm f/2.8 AI-s and 105mm f/2.5 Ai-S. I never ceases to amaze me at the sharpness of these lens, and yes, compared to the AF VR style lenses I have, these are beer budget lens and I don't have any of the "fast" lenses (e.g. 24-70 f/2.8).

As a side benefit, I find that MF lenses force you to "think" more about your shooting, which IMHO, is a good thing. I was getting lazy with AF zoom lenses. But with MF primes, you have to set the aperture (I shoot manual so set everything), move your feet to compose, focus, and then shoot. Things become REALLY challenging, when the subject is moving. I've been slowing toying with action photos, just to push my skills and find it very rewarding.

So consider those two MF lenses, but more importantly, reflect on what kind of shooting you want to do, and then build your lens set around that. Although the D700 is a great body, you'll have the lenses much longer. Pick great lenses that you can use forever, whether they are MF or AF. Think long term, so you don't re-buy lenses.

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My wife definitely agrees with you :-). So far I have ONLY the 50mm f/1.8 AF - which is a great toy - and amazingly good in low light on a D700. I'll look at MF along with the rest. –  Russell McMahon Aug 26 '12 at 17:46
    
+1 for the 105mm f/2.5 –  ruffp Mar 30 '13 at 17:50

Several of the later AF and early AF-D families of Nikkors released in the 1990s were good lenses. I still use these two regularly:

  • AF Zoom Nikkor 35-80mm f/4.0-5.6D . If you can find enough light to shoot with this lens, it turns in sharp, contrasty images. I pull this one out when I'm going to be shooting outdoors and don't want to juggle primes or the bulk of my larger glass. You want the Mark I version of this lens, which has a distance scale marked on the focusing ring, preferably one that was made in Japan. The Mark II and III versions are a completely different design that's nowhere near as good optically or build-wise. I have one each of the Japanese- and Thai-made Mark Is, and my (subjective) opinion is that the Japanese copy turns in better work, but that could just be the luck of the draw with the two I got. These were kit lenses for a number of N- and F-series film bodies and can be had for under $100, sometimes with the body still attached.

  • AF Zoom Nikkor 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5D. This one has a permanent slot in my bag because it's reasonably sharp, provides good contrast, doesn't add a lot of distortion and works well as a macro lens. These run around $200 used. EDIT: I tried the 24-120 before buying this lens but didn't care for its flavor of distortion and found the colors a little washed-out. YMMV.

I've used both lenses on full-frame film bodies and don't remember either having vignetting problems.

If you want something a little faster, you might see if you can find a clean 35-70 f/2.8D. I've never owned one, but they always received high marks from those that did.

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+1 for the 28-105! –  Dan Wolfgang Aug 23 '12 at 20:27

Does your choice have to be limited to Nikon lenses? One of my favorite lenses (for my Nikon D7000) is an old Russian Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 lens. I can only focus manually, and I can't focus at infinity, but it's very sharp, and gives interesting bokeh. I bought mine for $39 off eBay, including the adapter, but you can get an adapter (M42 lens to Nikon) for less than $10 new. Just be sure to get one without glass in it. (The one I got with glass had a huge negative impact on image quality).

My D7000 will enable metering through the lens; I usually use it in "manual" mode but believe I could also use it in aperture priority mode. The focus confirmation dot tells me when the subject is in focus, which I find helpful (given my eyesight isn't great).

As others have said, working with a fast manual focus lens will teach you more about photography than practically anything else you can do.

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You'd be nuts to not consider any of the older MF lenses. The D700 should have a decently bright view-finder compared to any of the DX cameras so should be pretty decent for that purpose.

Of the current crop of AF lenses, the Nikon 70-300 VR lens is rated fairly highly on the D700. It's not exactly bargain basement prices, but offers fairly good quality for the price. Might be hard to find a second hand copy of it though.

The older 105mm f/2.8 AF-D macro lens is also rated fairly highly. But with macro, you may as well go for an AI-S (MF) model.

As for the MF models to look out for: * 180mm f/2.8 AI-S ED (There's also an AF version) * Nikon 100mm f/2.8 Series E * 105mm f/2.5

There's more, I'm sure, just need to search.

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I bought some good manual focus ones (AI or AI-S) very inexpensively:

  • AI 35mm f/2
  • AI-s 55mm f/2.8 micro
  • AI-s 105mm f/2.5
  • AI 135mm f/3.5
  • AI 200mm f/4.0

They are all very sharp (even sharper than the more modern zoom I have), especially the 55mm (ok it is a micro) and the 105mm.

Even the 200mm is quite good because it is already at it's maximum sharpness at the widest aperture, just need a bit more light to have a proper shutter speed, and I got it for less than $80.

The highest price I paid was a bit less than $300 for the 105mm.

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Probably not "beer budget", but here are my choices for good, sharp, affordable Nikon-brand lenses.

  • 50mm f/1.8G. About $200 new. Sharp in the centre wide open, not bad in the corners, especially stopped down to f/2.8.

  • 85mm f/1.8G. About $400 new. Fantastic portrait lens. Sharp, even in the corners, wide open.

  • 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G AF-S VR. About $400 new. Good focal range for a D700, inexpensive alternative to the 24-70mm f/2.8

  • for a telephoto, you could pick up a 180mm f/2.8 or an 80-200mm f/2.8, both built like tanks and very affordable used lenses.

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Have to agree with most of the above. Thinking it was useless in the new digital age, I sold, regretted it, and then rebought an f/2.8 55mm macro Vivitar lens. Not particularly for the macro, but in general use it is fantastic. Don't know how it compares to the Nikkor 55mm . I must have first bought the original one 30+ yrs back, and glad now that I saw the error of my ways. There are some great pieces of glass out there - just have to find one in good condition.

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