Sunday, August 24, 2014

Budget Lens Options For The Nikon D3300 DSLR

I recently purchased a Nikon D3300 DSLR. I was considering this camera, but after a friend let me use their D3200, I was convinced to get the D3300. It should arrive on Friday.

I bought just the D3300 camera body. I didn't get the kit 18mm-55mm lens. I didn't want it. The sensor on the camera outperforms the kit lens. Also, the D3300 doesn't have an anti-aliasing filter, and the kit lens isn't sharp enough to really take advantage of that. The D3300 is a camera begging to have a good prime lens attached to the front of it.

Now I found the camera for a smoking deal: $375, including tax and shipping. Wow! This is a brand-new in-the-box camera. Not a floor model. Not refurbished. Not used. It's brand spanking new. It pays to shop around and clip coupons.

Soon I'll have a camera without a lens, so I'm trying to decide what lens or lenses to buy to go with it. There are three budget-friendly options available: Nikkor AF-S 35mm f1.8G, Nikkor AF-S 40mm Micro f2.8G, and Nikkor AF-S 50mm f1.8G.

The Nikkor AF-S 35mm f1.8G is a "standard lens" (50mm-equivalent) because of the APS-C crop factor. It is sharp, fast and doesn't have a lot of distortion, vignetting or chromatic aberrations. It retails for $195.

The Nikkor AF-S 40mm Micro f2.8 is a slightly telephoto lens (60mm-equivalent) because of the APS-C crop factor. This is a macro lens that will focus on objects very, very close to the lens front. Macro lenses typically auto-focus slower than non-macro lenses. To help with this Nikon included a switch that speeds up auto-focusing when not being used for macro photography. It is the sharpest of the three lenses mentioned here, has almost no distortion, and doesn't have a lot of vignetting or chromatic aberrations. It retails for $280.

The Nikkor AF-S 50mm f1.8G is a telephoto lens (75mm-equivalent) because of the APS-C crop factor. It is slightly sharper than the 35mm lens but not quite as sharp as the 40mm lens. It is fast, has almost no distortion (although it does have slightly more distortion than the 40mm lens), and doesn't have a lot of vignetting or chromatic aberations. It retails for $220.

My original plan was to buy the 35mm and the 50mm lenses. The 50mm is the better lens of the two (marginally better, as they are both good), but the 35mm is a more practical focal length for day-to-day shooting. Simply based off of past practices, I would use the 35mm lens 75% of the time, and the 50mm lens the other 25%. If I shop around I can get the two for just under $400, including shipping and tax.

As I've thought about this more, I'm really drawn to the 40mm lens. The difference between 50mm-equivalent and 60mm-equivalent is small. In other words, the 40mm lens is pretty much as practical for day-to-day shooting as the 35mm lens. Also, 60mm-equivalent isn't that far off from 75mm-equivalent. Because the 40mm is a macro lens it lends itself well to portraits, making the 50mm lens less necessary. In other words, the 40mm lens seems to fall in a "happy medium" between the 35mm and 50mm choices.

The 40mm lens isn't as fast as the other two lenses, both in aperture and auto-focus speed. But that's not a big deal and I will tell you why.

Regarding the aperture, while the 35mm and 50mm lenses do have a 1.3 f-stop advantage over the 40mm lens, the two lenses also perform their worst below f2.8. In other words, while the 35mm and 50mm lens have larger apertures than f2.8, it is best to avoid using the lenses at those larger apertures because of increased vignetting and chromatic aberrations and loss of sharpness. Also, on the 35mm and 50mm lenses diffraction begins around f11 while on the 40mm lens diffraction begins around f16.

Macro lenses focus much slower than non-macro lenses because they have a much larger range to focus through and because they are geared for more precise focusing. To help with this Nikon included a feature on the 40mm lens that speeds up auto-focusing when not being used for macro photography (it limits the closeness that the camera will attempt to focus). This means that the 40mm lens can auto-focus almost as fast as the other two lenses when you want it to. The 40mm lens is the clear winner when it comes to manual focusing.

If I shop around I can get the 40mm lens for about $250, including shipping and tax. If I get just the 40mm lens, that is almost $150 in savings compared to buying the 35mm and 50mm lenses. Plus, I don't have to carry an extra lens around or worry about dust getting on the sensor when I change lenses. While I'm still debating on what lens or lenses I will purchase, I'm leaning heavily towards the Nikkor AF-S 40mm Micro f2.8.

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