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Student Question and Review of Nikon D850

Student Question and Review of Nikon D850

Carl / Richard,

My daughter Ashley just graduated college and she has purchased a Nikon D850 SLR and a 18-140 lens.  She would like to purchase a Nikon 70-300.  Do you have any recommendations for her on that lens or a different one that may be a better choice for her.


The Nikon D850 is, in my opinion, the best DSLR camera ever made, with outstanding resolution and superior image quality, the incredible dynamic range for very low-light shooting, the precise autofocus system, its sensitive exposure metering system, all at what today is a price that won’t take your breath away.  The camera is flexible enough to satisfy the needs of any photographic objective.  (Full transparency – I am not a videographer, so I cannto speak to the camera’s video capabilities, but published reviews are very complimentary.)  You have a very fine instrument in your hands.

Unfortunately, the Nikon 18-140 lens, while it is a fine lens, has a serious problem when using it on the D850.  That lens was made for a so-called cropped-sensor camera.  The D850 is a full-frame camera.  As the name implies cropped sensor cameras have a significantly smaller sensor and the lenses made for them focus the light into a smaller area than full-sensor lenses.  The practical consequence of using a cropped sensor lens on a full frame camera is that the images have seriously darkened corners (vignetting) which either requires cropping the image to avoid the corners (about half the area), or reverse vignetting in a post-processing software like Lightroom which may or may not work well.  Ideally, you would have a different lens.

You seem to be zeroing in on zoom lenses, which I think is appropriate.  Personally, I much prefer the flexibility of a zoom lens to buying a set of prime lenses to cover the same range as the zoom.  One zoom lens is lighter than the two or three prime lenses it would take to cover the whole range, and while a zoom lens is more expensive than a prime lens, the cost of buying two or three primes will exceed that of the zoom.  The downside of a zoom lens is the maximum aperture size (which dictates the depth-of-field your images can achieve and also the shutter speed for a good exposure): most zoom lenses have a maximum aperture of f2.8 at best with less expensive lenses having smaller aperture (bigger f/ number) at maximum, while prime lenses can achieve maximum apertures of f/1.4 or f/1.8.  Myself, I do not need to do too much better than f/4 for most of my photos, because I do not need paper-thin depth-of-field, and I am willing to adjust ISO up a few stops to compensate for the smaller max aperture.  But you have to decide if you that is worth it to you: if are doing a lot of close-up photography where the depth-of-field is important, or if you find your self having to boost ISO too high to get a good exposure at max aperture, the use of three prime lenses might be preferable.  If you lean that direction, let me know and I can recommend some appropriate focal lengths for a useful set of prime lenses.

It would help me if you told me a bit about how you will be using the camera.  Are you a beginner/enthusiast/pro and whatever that is, will you be moving up to more advanced photography?  Will you be shooting landscapes, architecture, portraits, street scenes, products, wildlife, sports, what?  Will you be shooting in ambient indoor light, low-light or night scenes, bright arenas?  Will this be mtripod shooting or hand-held?  If hand-held, how many hours at a time will you be actually shooting?  If the answers are all of the above, what do you think you will want to be shooting for mostly?  Do you have a budget for new lens(es)?

Once I have a better sense of your situation, I can tailor my recommendations more, but what follows are some general ideas about what you might need.

Nikon’s “holy trinity” of full frame zoom lenses is: AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, and AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR.  (By the way, the VR in two of those names means Vibration Reduction, which is great for reducing hand-shake in low-light or long-range photos.  I recommend it if you can get it.)  This set of 3 zooms will set you back over $5000 new at B&H Photo (you can save hundreds of dollars by buying used).  If that price tag is too high, the most expendable of the 3 lenses is the 14-24 (unless you want to do a lot of macro photography) which would save you $1600.  If you drop the 14-24 lens, you can save on lenses with the same specs for the two by buying equivalent Tamron lenses: the two would be $2400 new, instead of $4000 for the equivalent Nikons.  In my opinion, and that of many reviewers, there is nothing wrong with Tamron lenses.

Generally, lenses with a smaller max aperture (bigger f/ number) will be cheaper.  For example, the Nikon AF-P NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR Lens that you are thinking of is $550, a lot cheaper than the above 70-200 lens, but its max aperture is f/4.5.  You may well be fine with a max aperture of f/4 or so (I am for most of my work) unless you are doing close-ups with paper thin depth-of-field.  So, a low-price two-lens alternative that should be quite workable for you is: Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR – 1.02 lbs ($500 new)  and  Nikon AF-P NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR – 1.50 lbs ($550 new).
A very attractive single lens alternative covering about the same range is: Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR – 1.76 lbs ($950 new).  The single lens is heavier than either of the two-lenses, which could be a factor if you are shooting hand-held all day.

Finally, if you can find them used, that can save too.  For example the 28-300 lens can be had used from B&H Photo for $640, and that may well be just what you need.

Let me know if I can answer more questions, Ashley and Barbie.

Carl Finkbeiner


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