Wednesday, June 20, 2012

If You Are Thinking About the Nikon D600

Either it's an elaborate long running hoax, or it's a bona fide leak, the Nikon D600 looks imminent. For a lot of DX shooters, this could very well be the chance that they have bee looking at to jump into full frame. However, the cost of the body is only a small part of it, you also have to consider the lenses, and at the prices that new high end lenses are going at, its not going to be cheap buying new. Of course, a general theme here on this blog has been about scrounging around for perfectly good legacy lenses. They say that markets are forward looking, and if that were true, prices would have started edging upwards in anticipation of cheap(er) FX, but for the most part, the used lens market doesn't work that way. Craigslist and eBay prices will probably stay static for good quality legacy lenses until supply goes down, but not before. Of course, you may want to ask why you would spend $1800 or more on camera equipment to use older second hand gear, but that's a different discussion.

Here's a list of older lenses that offer good value. Start hunting these down before the FX market picks up speed, assuming you are moving up from a mostly DX kit. I picked the following to be a good combination of value for money, resell-ability and decent optics to pair with the potential D600:

  • Nikon 50 AF-D , f/1.8 or f/1.4 - If you don't have one already (and really, who doesn't?) they are cheap and plentiful on the used market. The cheaper f/1.8 offers more value, but the f/1.4, which is more than double the cost and eclipsed by the newer G-type, is still better than it's slower sibling at lower apertures. Will be more or less your 'body cap' for a full frame body, pretty much the way that the 35 f/1.8DX does for crop frame users.For further reading: Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AF-D Review
  • Nikon 50 f/1.4 AF-G - This lens has been out for long enough that enough time has gone by for people to start trading them. Optically the best of the 50mm Nikkors, but pricey. Bargain hard, you should no longer have to pay top dollar for one; however the older AF-D lenses are much better value.
  • Nikon 24 f/2.8 AF-D - Utterly non-contemporary and overshadowed by successive generations of wide-zooms and the fabulous 24 AF-G. However, the only one of its kind in its price range for cheap wide angle zooms. DX users who don't have an ultra-wide or the 16-85 will not have much experienced for this field of view, and to be honest, even though you can go wider, 24mm on full frame is actually pretty wide, and about as wide as you want to go before composition starts getting more  difficult (The wider you go, the more you need something to anchor the composition with. Too many ultrawide shooters try to stuff as much width into the picture as possible, leading to repetitive composition.). Often overlooked, sharp and contrasty in the center, borders are not as good as a modern lens, but not that objectionable in real world use. Bargain hard... these lenses command slightly higher prices than the 28, 35 and 50mm AF-D primes, but you should no longer be paying top dollar for one.
  • Nikon 85 f/1.8 AF-D: Perhaps one of the best values on the used lens market. Not as 'magical' as the much more expensive f/1.4 version, but virtuous in its own right. The newer AF-G version also looks to be a good value for the new market, but under most conditions, there isn't any appreciable difference, especially if you are careful with your shooting circumstances.Remember, when moving up from DX, you will no longer get to use your 50mm prime as a 'portrait' lens, and any other dedicated head and shoulders lenses in 80-120mm range will start to get pricey on the used market.
  • Nikon 70-300VR: A venerable lens. It's been out on the market for so long now that it's not uncommon to see asking prices of less than $400CDN here in Vancouver. A year ago $450 would have still been reasonable. These lenses get traded often, so make sure that you are happy with your sample before committing to a used copy that has passed through more than one owner.
  • Nikon 80-200, all versions except AF-S: The push-pull version becomes an interesting buy if you find one in good condition.... cheapest f/2.8 for this range on the market. Don't overpay... a lot of people overcharge because of what the two-ring version goes for, the push-pull should come in under $600CDN or less for my locale, whereas the two-ring is at least $750 used. The AF-S is exotic and rare, and not to be confused with the other versions, you will not find it at 'bargain' prices. 
  • Any Legacy Sigma 80-200: Not as good optically as the equivalent Nikkors, but these lenses tend to command significantly lower asking prices as well. Generally well built and cared for, as the typical owner is higher up on the enthusiast chain. There have been many versions, so read up on the reviews before settling for one. Don't expect modern levels of performance from third-party lenses, though, they often are weak with chromatic aberration, flaring and distortion. For example, the Tokina 80-200 f/2.8 AF will probably be the least expensive, highest build construction legacy lens that you can find in this range on the used market, but its levels of chromatic aberration are unacceptably high by modern standards; it would be better to use the slightly cheaper consumer grade 70-300VR.
  • Nikon 70-200VR, 1st generation:  It's strange to call a lens that still commands up to $1600CDN on the used market a bargain, but prices have been edging downward over the past year, mostly due to the increasing number of people who have moved on to the newer second generation. Asking prices have been as low as $1400 here in Vancouver, but be warned, it is a mechanically complex lens that is getting on in the years. However, your used price on this lens can be as much as $1000 less than the cost of a newer second generation lens. On full frame, the 70-200 does have its faults, but they won't matter as much for people and event shooting. Despite the price declines, this lens has good resale potential, as the faults don't matter when used on a DX camera. For something of this sophistication, always make sure you know what the history of the lens is. It is reasonable to expect that the original receipts and boxes are long gone, but the seller ought to know where it was bought, how old, etc.
  • Tamron 28-75: As written about on this blog: Tamron 28-75 Mini-Review. Venerable, reliable, terrific value. Poo-poo'd upon by users of the Nikon 24-70, but two lenses, two different target audiences. 90% of the more expensive lens at a fraction of the cost. In fact, you'll find this lens for cheaper than the the 24-85 Nikkors. If you are waiting for the newer 24-70 version for the Nikon F-mount, you might be disappointed, though. Different animal, more expensive, weaker at its wide end and rather heavy on the vignetting.  That said, judging from the Canon copies that are already on the market, the new Tamron 24-70 is a formidable lens; it just doesn't seem to hit the magical sweet spot of value and performance that the 28-75 does. Look for the older AF-D versions of the 28-75, they are far more desirable than the newer ones with the built in motor. Tamron's first forays into AF-S weren't that successful, and their screwdriver-less lenses focus slowly.
  • Tamron 17-35: Merely competent in the center, full frame really highlights the weaknesses of this lens. Yet, as per my blog entry, a great value. Avoid the Nikon 18-35... though not great, the Tamron and Sigma lenses in this range are better, and offer a cheap stepping stone into this range. If you want a good Nikon lens, you're looking at something like the 17-35 AF-S, which is pricey. Used 14-24's move even further up the price scale. See also:Tamron 17-35 Review
A small list, I'm sure that others will have more to add. But the point is, for an entry FX kit, these are also re-sellable lenses, meaning that you can have something to start with now, and ease your way into the newest nano-coated lenses later. At the rumored 24mp, you are going to have to balance quality versus price when building a lens portfolio for the D600. Yes, the resolution is going to expose the faults of less capable lenses, but don't let the internet hype machine steer you into getting the latest and great all at once.


  1. Another very nice and affordable lens is the Nikon 35-70mm f/2.8. It is a push-pull design and requires a body having a focus motor. It is very sharp but somewhat prone to lens flare. I paid $315 for one in excellent condition.

  2. Another nice inexpensive lens is the Nikon 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5. It is very sharp once it is slightly stopped down but does exhibit some ghosting and lens flare if pointed toward the sun. Again, it requires a body having a focus motor. I paid $170 for mine, and it has turned out to be a favorite.