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My budget range: Don't want to spend more than $1000.00 My goal: Taking nice portrait shots with bokeh and blurry backgrounds in non-studio places like standing next to a graffiti wall in a street. What I currently have:

Nikon D-810, 35mm f1.8, 24-70mm f2.8 and 85mm f1.8

I was reading Ken's review on it: http://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/70-300-vr.htm and this part:

This is the one tele I usually take if I'm heading to the field, if I don't take the 85mm f/1.8 instead.

So does that mean I think I need this but for my purposes I actually do not need it and can get the same effect by correctly using my 85mm? and D-810 deserves a better lens and just wait until I can get the 70-200mm VR II ?

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    If you want nice bokeh, stick with your 85mm, it will do nicely for those sorts of shots, and save up for a 70-200 (or 80-200) f/2.8. The 85mm covers the short end of that zoom range, and at 200-300mm the 70-300 is f/5.6, so it's just not going to match the f/2.8 lenses – MikeW Feb 4 '15 at 20:27
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The name is Ken. Not Simon.

The quote from the article feels like "oh hey, he mentioned an 85 and I do have an 85, too, so this must be totally the same situation...", but it's not.

If you are looking for

non-studio places like [...] a graffiti wall in a street

as backgrounds, will a more tele lens be helpful? I doubt it.

Basically speaking, the longer the focal length, the less background you get in your image. Using a 300mm lens defeats the point of going out and finding these non-studio locations to a certain degree, because you are showing substantially less of them in the image.

After all, you are making a simple studio shot more complicated, by replacing what could be a small colorful backdrop with a giant wall in some street of which the lighting is probably not under your control.

If non-studio is really the goal here, then you do not want to simply fill the area around the head with some arbitrary colorful blur. You want to fill this area with a distinct background. The background is in a way a subject of its own. Not the main one though.

If these portraits are not staged, it gets even worse. The 70-300mm is twice as big as the 85mm and twice as heavy (roughly). You will be recognized as a photographer more easily. A "portrait" made with a 300mm or other very long lens will show a distance to the subject. It's not like you get that intimate moment at the other end of the street with the longer lens, because you are in fact at the other end of the street which reduces the intimacy of images dramatically, you wouldn't be close enough, and if you're not close enough, you will remember how that quote starts.


tl;dr

  • non-studio = wider/normal/slight tele focal length, not longer; because background/surroundings matter
  • your stuff is awesome for what you want to do
  • spend the $1000 to find even more interesting non-studio places, hire assistants, models, etc. instead of buying gear
  • if you still feel like you want the 70-300mm, rent it
  • I see, so the graffiti designs on the wall shouldn't really be blurry, it should just be out of focus comparing to the guy that is completely in focus...practicing with 85mm one... – Brandon Feb 4 '15 at 22:37
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The 810 is going to challenge every bit of glass you own, and my advice is to get the best you can or you'll find yourself trading up later. I think you'll find that the 70-300 will have a hard time keeping up.

Let me recommend a few secondhand alternatives:

80-200 f/2.8D AF-D and AF-S. These are the last two of a family of workhorses that was first introduced in 1986. Either one is available at or under your budget. Nikon still makes the AF-D version of this lens, and that's the one of these two I'd recommend if you have a choice. Bokeh in these is good, but nothing like the 70-200.

70-200 f/2.8G VR. (Not the VR II.) This is the successor to the 80-200 and is, in my opinion, one of the best zooms Nikon has ever made. Mine's been in the bag since 2005 and I have no intention of getting rid of it anytime soon because continues to turn in sharp work that includes bokeh that I can only describe as creamy. It's a good all-'rounder that also works well for portraits. Prices on these are currently a few hundred above your budget but it's worth saving up to own. (Or maybe trade in your 85 on it. I haven't shot with the f/1.8 version, but based on samples I was able to find, the 70-200 will run rings around it.)

  • My own experience is that the 70-200 VR (not II) at f8 was pretty comparable to the 70-300G VR at f8 on a D800. In fact, I found the 70-200 VR rather disappointing at anything but f8 on the D800. – Dan Wolfgang Feb 5 '15 at 2:35
  • @DanWolfgang: Could you describe what "rather disappointing" means? I've only shot a little with the VR II but didn't didn't find it better than the VR. That wasn't in 36 MP territory, so if it doesn't work well on the 810, Nikon has nothing to offer 810 owners in that range. I should have a chance to shoot an 810 sometime in the next couple of months, so I'll see if I can duplicate your results. At any rate, there isn't much glass you can buy on a $1,000 budget that's going to yield Otus-quality results. – Blrfl Feb 5 '15 at 12:07
  • My 70-200 VR at f2.8 on the D800 was plain bad at f2.8 anywhere but a small dot in the center. 5.6 was acceptable, but not good. I sold it because I was so disappointed with it every time I used it. My 70-300 VR at f4-5.6 was marginally better; at f8 both are quite good. I know that the DXOmark scores don't support this, so I don't know if I had a bum 70-200 and a good 70-300, but even before doing any serious testing the results were pretty clear to me. I have no idea how the VRII compares. – Dan Wolfgang Feb 5 '15 at 14:10
  • @DanWolfgang: I just upgraded to my first full-frame body (D750; had a D1 and D300 previously) in December and haven't had a lot of time to shoot with it yet. I found your email address through your profile and will drop you a line when I've done some shooting with the D750 and the D810. – Blrfl Feb 5 '15 at 15:18

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