Big Bubbles (no troubles)

What sucks, who sucks and you suck

Bigger, Better / Faster, More?

Here’s an interesting thread on Nikonians about the merits of fast lenses against all-in-one zooms. The latter are usually targetted at the “consumer” market, because consumers want the convenience and will accept - or are unaware of - the limitations and compromises imposed by these designs. Chief among these are narrow (slow) maximum apertures (second is quality loss, although it’s arguable whether this is a serious issue for typical print sizes). That means problems working in low light (i.e. the upper northern hemisphere :-) and difficulty obtaining shallow depth of field effects - which often produce the most “artistic” images.

I got dragged into this thread because, prior to it, the lens I most coveted was the Nikkor 28-105D zoom. Not much of a dream, but I need to replace the 28-100G bundled with my F80 (it was satisfactory right up until I saw the first picture taken with my 50/1.8D prime), and the 28-105D is generally reckoned to offer the best value/quality trade-off at the low end. It also has a limited macro capability, which interests me.

Now Nikkor have introduced the 24-120VR AF-S. For approx. another 25% of the cost of the 28-105D, you get vibration reduction, faster/quieter autofocus and more range. Great, I thought; all those 28-105D owners will upgrade and dump their old zooms on the secondhand market! But, as the thread above points out, either way you’re stuck with the slow apertures of a consumer zoom and you get whatever distortions and quality loss are concomitant with a lens that covers such a wide range of focal lengths. Obviously, you can choose a zoom with a fixed f/2.8 maximum aperture instead but they’re expensive, heavy and most of them have much narrower ranges than the two lenses above. I can’t justify that kind of money on a hobby. A part-time hobby at that.

Time to rethink, based on my photography to date:

  • I like primes. I like their contrast and sharpness and I even prefer the limitation of a fixed focal length, since it forces me to put more effort into the shot. Yes, you can tape down a zoom to one focal length but honestly, who would? It would be like taking two wheels off a Jag so you can learn how to ride a bicycle. Yes, you miss some shots when you can’t get close enough or, less frequently, far enough back but so what? I miss loads of shots anyway by simply choosing not to bother, not to make a figure of myself, not to hold everyone up while I faff around. At least with a prime, the shots I do take are generally worth it. And if I’m going to put some time into a shot, shouldn’t the result possess the highest quality I can manage?
  • I have 24mm and 50mm covered by primes. (I’ve never found 28mm to be wide enough anyway.) For long distance work (e.g. the zoo), I have a 70-300G that works acceptably well. The only gaps I’d like to fill are the 80-100mm area with higher quality (too short to be useful for “telephoto” shots but handy when a barrier stops you taking another step forward with your 50mm, and good for isolation) and macro capability.
  • Having just devoured Home Photography by Andrew Sanderson (more later), I really like the isolation and aesthetics provided by wide apertures. Reducing clutter in the frame is always a problem.
  • I like to shoot 100ASA or slower film, because it scans better (less grain aliasing). Conversely, I hate dragging around and using a tripod; it doesn’t make my picture-taking more considered, it just makes it more fiddly and rushed. With slow film in anything less than bright conditions, you soon find you need wider apertures than f/4.5 to keep shutter speeds above handholding limit. (On the other hand, I need to maintain at least 1/125th with a 100mm lens - is this always possible at f/2.8, bearing in mind that I’m frequently forced down to 1/45th at f/2 in the shade? Regardless of the available aperture, maybe it’s time I got over my tripediphobia (lit. “fear of three legs”))
  • I’d rather take one prime and live with it than a zoom that allegedly arms me “for anything”.

So I’m now looking for either a secondhand Micro-Nikkor 105/2.8D or new Sigma 105/2.8EX. Both are supposed to be super-sharp and have macro down to 1:1. Although, of course, they are rather different lenses to the 28-105D.