Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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Following on from an earlier post, I've decided to persevere with the behemoth for a bit and see where it goes. It may lead in the direction of a Canon G11/12 or S90/95 - only time will tell.

In the meantime, in an effort to cut some weight/bulk down I thought I might swap out the 18-55mm lens for a 35 or 50mm one. The choices are bewildering and at present ken rockwell is my guide. But he hasn't got a bad word to say about a single Nikon lens so I have no idea what to go for. Ideally I'd like something equivalent to the lens on the Canon S95 (28-105 mm focal length) - good for low light and fast. I'd appreciate your thoughts and comments.

EDIT: Apologies - my mention of the S90/5 lens suggests I need zoom - I don't, as the 18-55 that came with the camera will adequately cover those scenarios. I just want a light, quick lens with a wider aperture that I can use for 'everyday' use (snaps of the kids, random life shots, mostly low-light, handheld) that won't make me look like a Paparazzo or peeping tom, won't break the bank and will make my dSLR a bit like a compact.

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Rereading your post I don't really understand if you want a fast zoom equivalent to the 28-105 of the Canon S95 or a prime that is somewhat comparable to the speed of the S95. –  Leonidas Feb 10 '11 at 0:46
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I suggest you read from other websites than ken rockwell. Just a suggestion... –  Nick Bedford Feb 10 '11 at 5:27
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See photo.stackexchange.com/questions/1520/lens-review-sites for other review sites containing pictures/data/evaluation, for example photozone.de/nikon--nikkor-aps-c-lens-tests –  Leonidas Feb 10 '11 at 10:36
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As Nick Bedford says, beware of Ken Rockwell. Sometimes he gives serious advice, but usually he just writes whatever comes into his head. And he makes no effort to distinguish the two. For awhile, the "about" page on his site claimed that the whole thing was a joke; he seems to have softened that, but the disclaimer still largely should be applied. –  mattdm Feb 15 '11 at 18:08
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A good reference (for Canon): What is a good general purpose lens for Canon? –  chills42 Jun 21 '12 at 14:17

7 Answers 7

If size is your primary concern, you may want to take a look at the voightlander 40mm F/2. or 20mm F/3.5

They're "pancake" lens design, so is about as small as you'll be able to find for a full DSLR.

In combination with the better low light performance of the D5000 over the S95, they'll both work very well for low light.

The downside is that they are both manual focus, althought they fully support metering and all the other nice camera features.

Both will be roughly half the size of the nikon 35mm F/1.8, or 50mm F/1.4 lenses, which will autofocus and are slightly better for low light. The Nikon 50mm F/1.8 will not autofocus on the D5000.

If you're looking for a 50mm, another alternative is the Sigma 50mm F/1.4, which is a fair bit larger than the Nikon version, but may perform better.

I don't believe Nikon makes a zoom lens smaller than the 18-55mm.

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+1 for mentioning lack of autofocus for the f/1.8 on the D5000. I was just about to order this from Amazon :-( Do you think I should regard this as a deal-breaker? It seems to tick all the other boxes at a very reasonable price point... –  5arx Feb 10 '11 at 11:22
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I think the 50/1.8 is a very attractive lens at the price. Manual focus takes some getting used to, but it's really not that hard at 1.8. You still have the aids like the green dot in the viewfinder for confirming focus. –  Jon.Griffen Feb 10 '11 at 18:43

There is no such thing as an all-purpose lens. That is why they sell more than one model.

What you need is to look for one that suits you. If you want something lighter than the 18-55mm which weighs 265g, you do not have much choice: Here all all Nikon mount lenses which weight 250g or less. They are all primes and only 3 choices of focals, choose the one that you would use more. Personally, I would go for the 28mm, since it is easier to crop than to stitch when the angle-view is not what you need.

Some people need a zoom, Nikon makes some versatile ones like the 17-55mm F2.8 but it weighs 755g. It covers a nice wide-to-medium range and has a bright aperture for low-light and more control over depth-of-field compared to the kit lens.

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BTW, if you have one of the lighter-weight Nikon DSLRs (D3000, D3100, D5000, etc), it may not have a focus motor, so only the Nikon DX 35mm F1.8G among those will be able to autofocus: neocamera.com/lens.php?id=75 –  Itai Feb 10 '11 at 1:13

The equivalent to the S95's 28-105mm focal length would be an 18-70mm lens. The already-mentioned 17-55/2.8 will probably be the closest you can get to that.

The S95 can have a big zoom range with a physically small lens because it has a much smaller sensor than on your DSLR, so it needs a smaller-diameter lens to project onto that sensor.

Unfortunately, a wide-aperture (f/2), big zoom, lightweight lens does not exist. In fact, you'll find that you have to directly trade off physical size and weight for wider apertures, and again you'll have to directly trade off physical size and weight for bigger zoom ranges. So you'll need to narrow down your requirements to which single one matters most: wide aperture, zoom range, or physical size.

If you want a physically smaller lens but you want to keep DSLR quality (i.e. large sensor sizes), you can look at Micro 4/3 cameras.

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Thanks, I've edited my OP to reflect the fact the comparison to the S90/5's optics wasn't v. helpful on my part as I'm looking for a prime/fixed lens with a big aperture. Is there anything you could suggest with these requirements? –  5arx Feb 10 '11 at 13:37
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@5arx do this on your kept or favorite photos: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/7268/… , then pick the most-affordable-for-you, widest-aperture lens that is closest to where you take the most pictures. –  drewbenn Feb 10 '11 at 18:12

Unfortunately in the world of DSLR lenses, you really can't get past some graphs:

While this is not always the case, it's a basic idea of the trade offs.

The longer the lens can zoom in and out, the more image quality problems arise (chromatic aberration, barreling etc).

More often than not, a higher quality lens will also have a larger fixed aperture (not applicable to primes) which contributes to weight.

Higher quality lenses will then also be made out of metal for durability. In other words, when you want image quality, you'll likely end up with a heavy and/or large lens.

enter image description here

By longer zoom range I don't mean, telephoto lenses, I mean large zooms such as the 18-200mm versus the 70-200mm.

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Those graphs were very intelligible, I stayed awake AND found them useful :-) –  5arx Feb 10 '11 at 14:34
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mspaint.exe is a wonderful graphing tool :) –  Nick Bedford Feb 10 '11 at 22:13
    
Well I thought they were very informative ;-) –  5arx Feb 15 '11 at 21:34

I can heartily recommend the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 AF-S. It's compact, lightweight and has great image quality. It's not very expensive either.

As a counter-indication, it's pretty common on the used market around here (Stockholm, Sweden) which I take as an indication that it's not a lens for everyone. Personally I enjoy shooting with primes and this is a lens that fits my needs perfectly.

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What are the reasons why people don't like it? –  5arx Feb 10 '11 at 11:15
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Maybe some people read that they "should" have a fast prime with a normal field of view, then discover that it's not really that compelling for them. Really, the only thing lacking with this lens is a distance scale. It even has full-time manual focus override! –  gerikson Feb 10 '11 at 14:39
    
It's a great lens for the price, but it isn't a stellar performer wide-open. Some people may move on to more expensive lenses. –  mattdm Feb 15 '11 at 18:28
    
Hmm This lens is probably my all time favorite. I don't use it all the time ( I like the flexibility of the zoom ) but when I'm going to be taking an important pic that MUST be perfect, this is the lens I reach for every time. Its light weight, fast, and sturdy. It's the least expensive new lens I've bought as well. I couldn't come up with a reason to get rid of it, even if I could sell it for 5x what I paid for it. –  Therealstubot Aug 8 '12 at 21:41

Go for NEX-5 with 16mm f/2.8 pancake. You cannot get a smaller form factor than this in APS-C format and 12800 ISO

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Thanks, but I just need a lens - only just got my D5000 and can't justify getting a whole new system. –  5arx Feb 15 '11 at 15:51

From the things you've said you wanted, I'd get a 50mm f1.4 or a 35mm. Do you need to zoom in on anything? I rarely do if I'm taking candid photos or doing everyday things. They're light, prime, work excellently in low light conditions and are bleedin' cheap. It's a basic go to lens for street photography and for a lighter camera as well.

However, if you can try each of those before you buy. If you can get hold of one to borrow for a while or test it out at a shop then that would be the way to go.

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Thanks for posting - I want a 50mm f/2 or under. I was going to get the inexpensive Nikkor f/1.8D but it won't autofocus on my D5000. Can you recommend similar glass that will? –  5arx Feb 16 '11 at 9:57

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