Friday, March 02, 2007

Another look at the 50-150mm Lens

I'd like to say,"Thanks for the comments,people!" I've recently begun to get comments here and there from folks who are reading my blog, and I'd like to take the time to thank each and every one of you who have posted a comment to my blog. I appreciate hearing from those who have read what I have to say, and I try to let people have their say without a lot of refutation on my part.

Recently I got a second,excellent and well thought-out,comment from Anonymous vis a vis my feelings about Nikon's missing lenses. I guess I misunderstood the comment Anonymous left the first time about the differences he sees between a 50-150mm zoom lens and a 70-200mm zoom lens. Anonymous suggests that it's nitpicking to differentiate between a 50-150 and a 70-200mm zoom lens; I beg to differ. There's a substantial difference between 50 millimeters and 70 millimeters when that focal length is multiplied by 1.55. The twenty millimeter difference is actually quite a large difference, and I suspect that's why Sigma has introduced its new 50-150mm f/2.8 HSM lens for crop-frame d-slrs.

An article entitled,"Nikkors Need a New Nidus: Let's can the eclectic lens lineup and do a clean restart" appears on Thom Hogan's web site at I think it's worth going there and reading what Hogan thinks are problem areas for the current Nikkor lens lineup. In his article Hogan says Nikon needs to design and offer Nikon DX users,and this is a quote: "50-150mm f/2.8 VR AF-S DX.The DX equivalent to the old telephoto standard, but with a big [sic] more reach. Plus it's smaller and lighter than the film equivalent. Note that Nikon will probably get this lens wrong, and make it a 35-135mm f/2.8 or 50-135mm f/2.8."

So,apparently, I'm not alone in thinking that a 50-150mm f/2.8 lens is not that wrong to want for my DX-bodied Nikon cameras. I would also disagree strongly that a 35-135 f/2.8 would be 'getting it wrong'--for MY own use, a 35-135mm would be even BETTER, since what I want is a lens that offers the most focal length flexibility in one lens tube,for sports/action. Making the lens shortish,like 35mm to start,would make it MORE useful,not less. I could sacrifice the range from 135mm to 150mm easily,since there's little difference between 135mm and 150, but there's a world of difference between 35mm and 50mm. Hogan's article also suggests that Nikon needs a 100-300 f/4 AF-S VR DX lens. I own a Sigma 100-300 f/4 EX HSM,and it has a LOT of focusing problems....I got it used,and maybe that's why I got such a good deal on it. I find the autofocus performance of the 100-300 rather poor--it's unreliable,focus-wise. It hunts wayyyy too often, and back-focuses a lot too. Frankly, Sigma's HSM protocol does NOT impress me on either their 100-300 f/4 or their 180 f/3.5 EX Macro which are my two Sigma lenses. A Nikkor-branded 100-300mm f/4 AF-S lens would no doubt focus much more reliably than the hunt-prone Sigma HSM lenses do.

A lens that I think Nikon ought to build is something along the lines of the Olympus 35-100mm f/2,seen and described here
This is a $2,499 lens using a 77mm filter and weighing 3.64 pounds, with 21 elements, 1 Super ED element, 4 ED elements, focus hold buttons, and styling reminiscent of the Nikkor 200mm f/2 AF-S VR-G. The Oly 35-100mm f/2 is a modern,sexy,well-designed lens,with the rounded,waterproof focus hold buttons out near the front of the barrel...just like the very newest pro Nikkors! The big thing here is the f/2 aperture...not f/2.8, but f/2. And just over three and a half pound weight. I know this is a 4/3 lens, but this lens could cover a small, APS-C sized sensor and still be in the same,exact specification range,filter-wise and weight wise. This is a lens many people would BUY and LOVE TO USE. Nikon has DX wide angles, but NO professional DX-optimized teles or DX-optimized professional tele-zoom lenses.

The problem with the 70-200 on 1.5x for me is that,in many sports situations like long jump, finish line photos,triple jump or high jump,baseball from 1st baseline or 3rd, basketball,volleyball,etc the 70-200 is simply too LONG at 70mm to get the kind of shots I want, and there's really no way to back up and get farther away. While the 200mm end of the zoom is fine for distant shots, as athletes approach the camera position, it's nice to be able to zoom back....unfortunately, at 70mm x 1.55x,well, you've got the angle of view of 108.5mm using a 1.55x factor for Nikon. With a 50mm lens, the shortest equivalent angle of view is 77.5mm. QUITE a difference between that and 108.5mm,really.

I think there's a reason the 70-200mm 2.8 lens has totally supplanted the 80-200mm f/2.8 lens, and that is simply that 80mm is too LONG to begin at....70mm is only 10 millimeters shorter than 80mm, and yet, the 70-200 has become the defacto standard for professional f/2.8 and for professional f/4 lenses like the new 70-200 f/4 L IS lens from Canon. The difference beetween 50mm and 70mm is twenty millimeters. Not surprisingly, Sigma has now created the world's first 70mm macro lens. Sigma has also created the world's first 50-150mm f/2.8 autofocus lens....I think because there is a real,significant difference in the utility of a 50-150 lens as opposed to a 70-200 lens on a DX-sensored body. With today's higher-MP cameras, the 1.5x FOV crop is no longer an advantage--we've got plenty of resolution and file size with the D2x to crop and throw away HALF of a frame,and it's STILL got much more info than a 2.7 MP or 4.1 MP file ever had.

I owned the 50-135mm f/3.5 AiS Zoom~Nikkor for a number of years,and found that it was a MUCH handier general purpose zoom lens on 1.5x than my 80-200 f/2.8 AF zoom, or my 80-200 f/4 (old) Zoom-Nikkor, and it was also much handier than my 70-200 VR as a general-purpose, all-in-one lens for walkabout use. When I got the 70-200VR, I kept the 50-135 f/3.5 manual focus, and loaned the old one-ring 80-200mm 2.8 to a UK photographer who had all of his equipment stolen and the 80-200 f/4 went to my sister in law. Then,somehow, my 50-135/3.5 went missing. I have NO IDEA what the hell happened to it,it's just simply "gone". What I like about the 50mm focal length is that it can be used to make what I call wide-angle compositions,as well as telephoto compositions. It's actually wide enough to give a sense of place,and to put things into context,where 70mm has absolutely NO wide-angle nature whatsoever--all compositions with a 70mm are short telephoto type compositions. I personally think that with the increased MP count of good new cameras, that a shorter,wider-angle zoom lens will allow better utility from a single camera body,without the need to always be reaching for the second camera and lens combo. In many situations, there is simply not enough time to reach for a second camera,bring it up,frame,and shoot, but there IS time to zoom back,using the same zoom lens as you began with. Hence, my desire for a 50-150mm lens, and not yet another 70-200mm lens for "serious" use. [Update: In October 2007,my 50-135 was found,unharmed.]

I think a similar argument,that of great flexibility and utility, can be made for the existence of the 100-300mm f/4 Sigma HSM,and the 120-300 2.8 Sigma EX; the 70-200 f/2.8 and f/4 zooms are simply NOT long enough for those who want 300mm worth of reach in ONE LENS,for FAST deployment on sports or action. I would LOVE to see a NIKKOR 100-300mm zoom, since the Sigma 100-300 f/4 HSM has so many focusing problems and is really NOT up to professional optical quality on the D2x. There are always tradeoffs; a 300mm f/2.8 prime lens is sharp,focuses great,and has superb optical performance, but when athletes come anywhere close to you, the lens is useless. Enter the Sigma 120-300 f/2.8....I'm starting to see this lens more and more at larger outdoor sporting events. While it might not be as good as a Canon or Nikon 300/2.8, it has the focal length flexibility and the range that many sports/action shooters want to have all in ONE LENS BARREL,for fast deployment.Zooming flexibility can be worth a LOT.

A case in point about lens designs and the range that sports/action shooters want; Nikon has made a really stupid lens design decision with its fairly new 200-400mm AF-S VR G lens. WHO,exactly, was this thing designed for? It's a $5,099 lens. It's a 200mm f/4. It's a 250mm f/4. It's a 300mm f/4. It's a 350mm f/4. And it's a 400mm f/4. Good Lord Almighty, people are paying five THOUSAND dollars for a 200mm f/4 lens? And five thousand dollars for a 300mm f/4 lens? Shit, that is simply insanely specialized. A 200mm f/4 that weighs 7.2 pounds with its protective glass installed, or 6.9 pounds without the protective glass? I hate to be so blunt, but I see the 200-300 part of the range at a mere f/4 and have to wonder to myself WHY this lens was ever made. It seems to me to offer too slow of an aperture at both 200 and 300mm to cost $5,099. If you want a 200mm f/4 lens, it ought to weigh about one pound,and you CAN buy a 200mm f/2.8 lens from Canon for $659,and it weighs 26.8 ounces. while the 300mm f/4 Canon Image Stabilizer weighs 2.6 pounds and costs $1,149 I can see wanting a 200mm f/2.8 prime that weighs under two pounds,and I can see a 300mm f/4 stabilized lens that costs $1,149 and weighs 2.6 pounds. But I can NOT see the need for a 200-300-400 f/4 lens that costs over five grand, is too slow to use a teleconverter on,and which needs to be stopped down smaller than f/4 to get the BEST sharpness. if you want a lens that WEIGHS WAYYYYYYY too much over 85% of its focal length range, the 200-400 f/4 AF-S VR-G is your lens....24 elements, 17 groups, and weighs a ton.

A 50-150mm f/2.8 lens priced at $1100 from Nikon would be very,very welcome. It would actually re-create the 70-200 in terms of FOV. And people could afford it,and it would have broad utility. I ask you, who exactly is the 200-400 VR targeted at,and why is it such a slooooow seller? I do not think it sells poorly because of price alone, but because it's somebody's pet project,and it's "neat".

I think Nikon has some real,significant gaps in its lens lineup,and a significant problem with its sensor size offerings. Pretty soon we will see if Nikon brings out a Full Frame d-slr camera; rumors are now flying that Nikon might produce a d-slr with a 1.1 or 1.13x fied of view factor. Short of full frame admittedly, but larger than 1.55x that they now have. In the meantime, we'll all have to remain content to carry two d-slr's,one on a monopod,and one around our neck. The lack of a 50-150mm f/2.8 lens for field sports costs us an extra $6,000, just to be able to cover closer action.

I can see why Nikon is not too worried about its current lack of a 50-150mm f/2.8 pro-grade lens--Nikon has lost the majority of the PJ/sports/event market to Canon.

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