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I am heading to Antarctica soon and have no idea what type of lens would work best. I have a Nikon D3100 and have two options for lenses. I am borrowing a lens from a friend so can only pick one. I am not skilled.

  • Nikon AF Zoom-NIKKOR 80-200mm f/2.8D ED Lens

or

  • Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 ED-IF AF-S Wide Angle-Telephoto Zoom-Nikkor Lens

I already have kit 18-55mm lens

  • What do you plan on photographing? The nature of your subject matter and the distance from which you will be shooting are chief considerations for selecting a lens. – Michael C Dec 3 '17 at 7:24
  • Do you already own a lens for the D3100? Such as an 18-55mm kit lens that probably came with the camera? – Michael C Dec 3 '17 at 7:27
  • Hi Michael, landscape shots from afar, close up shots of penguins, etc. – Claire Dec 3 '17 at 7:28
  • Yes I have the 18-55mm – Claire Dec 3 '17 at 7:41
  • While it's great that a friend is willing to lend you a lens, don't let that gesture limit your options. Consider renting as a way to get the gear you want for your trip. – Caleb Dec 4 '17 at 13:48
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Unless you anticipate shooting in very low light, the Nikon AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8 ED-IF has a lot of overlap with the 18-55mm kit lens you already have. It does have better optical image quality than your kit lens, but your kit lens is not that bad, either. The 28-70mm will also give you a bit more focal length reach at 70mm than the kit lens at 55mm, but you lose even more at the wide end comparing 18mm to 28mm (it's more about the ratios between the focal length numbers than the arithmetic differences).

The Nikon AF 80-200mm f/2.8D ED gives you a lot more reach to zoom in on distant vistas or to get closeups of things such as penguins without having to stand right over them.

If you're going on a packaged tourist trip to Antarctica, most such tours include visits to areas with large flocks of penguins that are highly acclimated to having humans walking around in their midst. You won't have to worry about shooting them from afar. You will get a different 'look' shooting from 20-30 feet with a telephoto lens compared to shooting with a wider angle lens from just a few feet.

But there is a catch with this particular 80-200mm lens when used on your D3100: It has no autofocus motor in the lens. The lens is only capable of autofocusing with Nikon bodies that have an autofocus drive motor built into the camera. The Nikon D3x00 and D5x00 series do not include such a motor in the camera body. If you choose to take this lens you will have to manually focus it for every shot you take with it using your D3100. Your camera does have a focus confirmation dot that will show in the viewfinder when the lens is in focus for your selected AF point.

You are going to have to weigh the additional focal length advantages of the AF 80-200mm f/2.8D ED against the ease of use of the AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8D ED-IF. (That '-S' after the 'AF' indicates that a "Silent Wave" focus motor is contained in the lens. The absence of that '-S' in the 80-200mm lens' name indicates there is not.)

My advice would be to try out both here at home before you leave if you can. The AF 80-200mm f/2.8D is a very good lens, but it takes some skill to manually focus it and it is a bit large and heavy if you are not used to it.

On the other hand, the AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8D is also a very good lens. While not as bulky and heavy as the 80-200mm, it is also quite a bit larger and weighs significantly more than any of the 18-55mm kit lenses Nikon has made over the years.

  • i think d3100 has a single green focus confirmation dot for non-AFS lenses. So you can use that to make sure image is sharp – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Dec 3 '17 at 21:16
  • @aaaaaa That's already included in the answer. – Michael C Dec 4 '17 at 1:36
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Michael Clarke's answer is excellent. However, I would like to add the following remarks:

Take a telephoto lens with you for shooting penguins at a distance, the longer the focal length, the better. Alternatively, a good quality telephoto adapter will increase the focal length of an existing lens, at the expense of effective aperture (and possibly image quality). High-quality telephoto-adapters can be almost as expensive as a good-quality prime lens. Cheaper telephoto adapters may reduce the contrast of your images, and introduce other defects.

Since this may well be "the holiday of a lifetime", take a good quality tripod with you as well. There is little point in taking shaky telephoto shots. Generally speaking, the heavier your tripod is, the more stable it will be. I have a Manfrotto, but other makes can be just as good.

  • 2
    "Barlow" lenses are for telescopes. For cameras we call lenses with a similar function 'teleconverters' or 'extenders'. But they are designed to be used with telephoto lenses, not 18-55mm or 28-70mm lenses. – Michael C Dec 4 '17 at 1:38
  • Most packaged Antarctic tours include a visit to areas with lots of penguins that are used to human walking around in their midst. There's no need for super telephoto (over 300mm for DSLRs) or longer focal lengths to get photos of them. – Michael C Dec 4 '17 at 1:49
  • You're right. I do have some tele-converters, but I forgot what they are called (I also have a telescope with a Barlow lens). – Mick Dec 4 '17 at 1:59
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Social Aspects of Photography

Borrowing a lens imposes social obligations that may affect the way you shoot photographs. Borrowing an expensive lens is even more prone to doing so. For example, is the photographer willing to walk around with a borrowed lens on the camera in slightly adverse conditions or take it out of the bag when there is a chance of adverse conditions.

Long zooms are useful for capturing particular images. They also require more time and effort to compose and shoot. In a group setting having people wait around while the photographer zooms in and out to take a particular picture (never mind swapping lenses) may win the photographer friends but probably won't unless it is a group of photographers.

Since you are undecided anyway

My advice would be not to borrow either lens and use the 18-55mm lens that you already have. It's a great range for taking pictures of landscapes and people. Its technical limitations are unlikely to be the limiting factors for your photographs.

The lenses you are considering borrowing exchange weight and bulk and expense for some improvement over your existing lens. In theory, you might take advantage of some of those technical improvements like a wider maximum aperture. Other technical improvements like weather resistance you can't with your current camera.

The 70-200mm adds some reach. It might bring subjects like wildlife closer. It won't bring them close unless you're already physically close. Getting physically close means walking around with the lens hoping to get lucky or waiting patiently for wildlife to come close. Those things appeal to some photographers and not to others.

A travel story

This is a "walking around getting lucky" shot taken at 300mm with a 55-300mm kit lens. I'd shot upwards of 3000 images with the lens prior to taking this particular shot:

A raven

The distance was about three meters and the subject was a honking big raven. You can see how close I was when shooting out the window of my truck in the detail:

Close up of raven's eye showing reflection of truck

The lens is less than 1/3 the weight of the one you are considering and considerably less bulky. That's why it was an easy decision to put it in my camera "day bag" so that it was at hand. That's why it was easy to swap onto the camera and hand hold. Because it was my lens, I had plenty of practice swapping it.

I had already taken this image with my 18-55mm kit lens at 55mm:

raven on a wall by a lake

My first shot was this one with the 18-55mm at 18mm:

Raven at Lake Yellowstone looking South

The close up shot at 300mm could have been taken anywhere including my backyard. The shorter focal length shots tell more of a story. At 55mm there is a story about a raven on a stone by a lake. The 18mm shot is a rich story because it has other important characters besides the raven.

Final Remarks

  • If you believe you need a lens to shoot in low light, consider an inexpensive nifty fifty. They are small and cheap (particularly used) and will fit in a coat pocket. Yet provide very high technical quality.

  • If you believe reach will be useful, get a zoom with a maximum focal length of 300mm. The Nikon 18-300mm VR has a really useful range. It weighs about 1/2 of the zoom you are considering and will enlarge objects to cover 2.25x the pixels (1.5 x 1.5).

  • Most of what makes a great image is not the lens or the camera. It is the photographer. Being relaxed and understanding one's gear helps.

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