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My girlfriend owns a D5100 and I own a D7000 for which we both share lenses (or try to when appropriate). I own the 18-55 kit lens, a Nikkor 50mm 1.8g (I may consider buying the inexpensive 50mm 1.8d so that we can both have the 50mm at all times) and a cheap Sigma 70-300 4.5-5.6.

As of right now, I do 65% of my shots using the 50mm, including, most of the time, landscape photography. I just adjust the composition by adjusting my position and only use the kit lens when that's not an option. For some time I've been thinking about acquiring a wide angle lens, but after checking up the prices and different models I couldn't make up my mind.

What is it that you look for in a wide angle lens?

To make it easier to explain where my doubts lay, let's say the Nikkor 24mm 2.8D which sells on amazon for 360 pounds / $450.

  • Do I really need a fast lens for landscape? I mean, 90% of my shooting with a wide lens is going to be architecture or landscape so why would I need a fast lens?
  • Most of my photography (which tends to be street photography and portraits) is taken with the 50mm or the telephoto (which I'm seriously considering upgrading to something not crappy)... are there other usages for wide angle (other than landscape and architecture) that I'm missing? (I mean things you'll do often, not things that you may do but you never end up really doing).
  • How is it different from the kit lens? I can deduce build quality of the kit lens is not going to be great, but it's still a 18mm f3.5 in the wide side, so wider and reasonably fast... is it really worth it to get the Nikkor 24mm? Why?
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On crop bodies like the D5100 and D7000, 24mm is not considered terribly wide. Try using 24mm and 18mm on your kit lens for a while and see if 24mm is really what you want in a prime. It might be, though, if you're regularly shooting landscapes at 50mm! –  Norman Lee Feb 25 at 0:45
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24mm isn't really wide. I suggest the Tokina 12-24mm, although it's close to $400 so not cheap. For your portrait upgrade, I had the same issue and went for the Tokina 50-135mm 2.8, but it doesn't seem to be produced anymore :/. –  Max Feb 25 at 6:35

2 Answers 2

Well, first, a f/2.8 lens is not that fast, especially for a prime.

In general, a (correct) prime will yield a better image quality than a zoom (usually, although for example a "pro" grade zoom would outperform a "lower" grade or outdated prime).

Now let's look at your questions :

  • For your first question, I won't dwell on the pros and cons of fast wide angle, you can look at the related link suggested above.
  • For your second question, wide-angle can give photos a very different style (distortion, emphasis on the foreground in a vast background...), but since your cameras are DX format not FX, the 24mm will behave more or less like a 35mm, hence diminishing these effects.
  • Third question, comparing to the kit zoom you already own, even admitting the aperture @ 24mm is f/4, you'd gain only one stop. That's not much, especially with the D7000 that has good low-light performance. I don't know the relative build quality of these specific lenses, but indeed kit zooms are usually lower quality (optical, build, etc.).

Did you consider cheaper alternatives (but less "evolved" : manual focus, manual aperture) like Samyang (so that you would not regret buying a lens for a "once in a while" use) ? Or upgrading from your kit zoom ?

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For landscape photography the advantage of most prime lenses over kit zooms is not the maximum aperture, it is the sharper image it can produce at middle apertures (i.e. f/4-f/8) and better performance in the areas of distortion, vignetting, and chromatic aberration. While you can correct for those in post, you do so at a price of maximum sharpness.

Traditionally a lot of street photography has been done using 35mm lenses and 35mm film. That field of view equates to 23mm with your APS-C cameras. The wider aperture of a prime lens allows shooting earlier in the early morning twilight and deeper into dusk. The image quality concerns mentioned above in relation to landscape photos also apply, although distortion is not generally as big an issue for street photography.

There are also other use cases that will take advantage of the faster aperture, night sky photography being the most obvious. While that might not be a use case that you would ever consider there are many users of such lenses for which that is the primary focus of their photography. Just as you like to do street photography and portraits, those use cases may be ones which others would consider things they might one day do, but never end up actually doing.

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