Second lens for a beginner - Nikon 55-200mm or 50mm/f1.8

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by timmyb, Nov 13, 2008.

  1. timmyb macrumors 6502

    Feb 2, 2005
    United Kingdom
    I love my D40 and am more than happy with the kit lens but as Christmas is fast approaching I'm starting to think about a second lens, (my parents always have problems picking presents so I thought I'd give them some pointers!)

    Before buying the camera I'd thought that a couple of months down the line I'd like to get the 55-200mm VR lens but recently I've been drawn towards the 50mm/f1.8, (both Nikon.) I find I like taking landscapes, night shots and macro so although I wish I had a greater zoom from time to time, I'm not sure I really need it enough to go for the telephoto. I know that I'll have to manual focus for the f1.8 but that doesn't seem a big problem and is probably a good skill for me to learn. I've got a few questions on both lenses.

    1. With a fixed 50mm focal length does that mean I'd be walking round with the zoom fixed at a similar distance to the 18-55mm when that one is nearly fully zoomed in?
    2. Are there any other advantages of the f1.8 other than making it easier to shoot in low light and allowing a shallower depth of field than I'm used to with the 18-55? (I know that they are big advantages in of themselves!)
    3. Similar to question 1, with the 55-200 is the 'least zoomed' for this lens the same as the 'most zoomed' on the 18-55?
    4. If I had the 55-200 and was walking round a city, (i.e. not shooting one particular style,) would I find myself wanting to switch between it and the 18-55 all the time or is the 55-200 still good for closer subjects?

    As my questions indicate I don't really understand focal length, (zoom?) I feel I have quite a good handle on aperture/shutter speed/exposure etc as I can experiment with them in my photos. However as I only have one lens I don't really understand the effects of different focal lengths of different lenses. If anyone knows a decent online tutorial for it then that would also be great.

    Thanks for any help
  2. pdxflint macrumors 68020


    Aug 25, 2006
    Oregon coast
    You ask some really good questions...

    I have both of the lenses you ask about: the 18-55 and 55-200 for my D50. They're both decent performers... but I find I just don't really use the 55-200 nearly as much as I thought I would. It is very sharp when it's slightly stopped down, and nice and light, but with slow AF, and slow optically. It's not a quick performing lens, but does make some very nice, sharp, contrasty images when used within its limits.

    Yes, the long end of the 18-55 matches the short end of the 55-200.

    One thing to ask yourself about your 18-55 is: when using that lens normally, which side of it (18 vs 55) do you feel limits what you naturally want to do, if any. When you're shooting wide angle, do you just feel like it doesn't get you where you need to be on the wide side, or does that happen more often when you're at the long 55mm end, and it doesn't feel like it has enough 'reach' for you?

    Maybe it's not the focal range of the lens that feels restricting to your style, but instead maybe it's the speed of the lens. That's where the 50/1.8 would make a huge difference, or in fact the 50/1.4 for a dramatic difference in light gathering ability. If your desires stretch toward more available light in lower light situations, then the prime lenses really shine. To compare the three lenses mentioned at approximately the same focal length - 50-55mm; the 18-55 @ 55mm is f/5.6, the 55-200 @ 55mm is f/4.0, the 50 @ 50mm is f/1.8 (or 1.4 for that version - my choice.) That makes the 50/1.8 3.33-stops faster than the 18-55 and 2.33-stops faster than the 55-200 at the same focal length. That's a lot faster. Much better subject isolation wide-open, many more hand-held natural light opportunities, etc. etc.

    Having said all of that, I now would make a different choice than I did, and I'd get the 50mm 1.8 or most likely the 1.4. I had one years ago, a manual focus, and took it for granted. I've never really been happy with the slow performance of most zooms, including the f/2.8 ones. Once you go fast prime, you'll probably always have one or two in your bag, and do a lot of shooting with them.

    If you want an inexpensive tele-zoom with reasonable, but not exceptional range (a bit short for wildlife,) excellent image quality but with slow AF, the 55-200 is a good lens, but get the image stabilized one.

    Hope that helps...
  3. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    1) Yes. 50mm is 50mm is 50mm.
    2) You have the two main ones but also the view through the viewfinder is always with the lens wide open so the view you see will be brighter and have a shallower depth of field (making focuasing much easier.)
    3) see #1 above
    4) You would need to use the 55-200 for subjects that you could not get close to. Mostly you can simply walk forward butthere are somethings out of reach. That is the only reason for a 200mm lens

    One more thing. I think Nikon just released a 50mm f/1.4 AF-S lens. This lens would auto focus on the D40. You could also trade even money your D40 for a D50 and gain autofocus on the f/1.8 lens.
  4. jampat macrumors 6502a

    Mar 17, 2008
    The comments above are good, there are a couple of other things to keep in mind too.

    1) You may not be able to suitably focus the lens manually. On canons, anything below the 5D (ie $2500 body range) has a plain glass screen that makes it almost impossible to focus manually. I'm not sure if Nikons are similar.

    2) If you generally take 100 pictures when you wander around for a few hours, you will take roughly the same number of pictures regardless of your equipment, they will just be different pictures. If you are using the 50/1.8, you will likely get a lot of shots of people, if you use the 18-55 you will likely get a lot of landscapes and shots of buildings, if you have the 55-200, you will end up with details on the buildings (ie gargoyles). You still have fun, you still get interesting pictures.
  5. Dont42Panic macrumors newbie

    Feb 23, 2008
    Jeffersonville, IN
    I also recently purchased a D40 and I did buy the 55-200mm VR lens that you mentioned, so I can at least show you what the lens can do (if I can figure out how to attach the photos).

    These were taken from the Indiana border looking at Louisville, Kentucky across the Ohio River. I would guess the buildings are about a mile away or so. The first image is the lens set to 55mm and the second is the lens set to 200mm while focusing on the two tallest buildings. Personally I am pretty happy with it and would have no problem recommending it.

    I have not picked up the 50mm/f1.8, but I have looked at it. If you do go that route I would love to hear your opinion on it.

    Attached Files:

  6. nissan.gtp macrumors 6502

    Aug 22, 2007
    don't know if it's in you price range but the 18-200VR is excellent

    heck, have Santa bring it, that saves money :D
  7. timmyb thread starter macrumors 6502

    Feb 2, 2005
    United Kingdom
    Thanks for all the responses.

    I think those 2 are both a bit out of my price range at the moment.

    I don't think this is the case? Hopefully not! I've heard D40 users using it happily but if anyone could confirm?

    What does 'slow' mean? The max aperture of the lens is higher for a given focal length?
  8. mcnicks macrumors regular

    Jan 8, 2006
    I have a 50mm f/1.8 AF on my D40 and it never comes off. In an ideal world I would probably prefer a slightly wider angle prime but that lens just hits all of the sweet spots: cheap, light, high quality.

    Now that I am used to it, I quite like manual focus. The D40 focus light still comes on when you hit the right focus so the lack of a focusing screen is not an issue. I keep my camera set to use the centre AF area so that I can point to what I want in focus, turn the focus ring till the green light comes on, reframe and shoot.

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