On Acquiring New Kit

This image shows a "Nikon Nikkor 18-70 AF...

This image shows a “Nikon Nikkor 18-70 AF-S DX / 3.5-4.5 G IF-ED” lens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I do firmly believe that you should just enjoy taking photos with whatever camera you have. I, for example, have a very basic DSLR and a 35mm fixed focus (prime) lens that takes over 99% of my photographs. I get great photos from them from knowing how to use them and what they can do.


Having said that, I really, really miss having a wide angle lens. I had a kit lens (18-55mm) but the plastic mount broke when I dropped it, so I’ve not been able to use it since! I like taking landscape photos and being able to use the wide angle to get closer to the foreground and keep the background (longer focal lengths reduce the background).


I’ve borrowed a Nikon 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 DX a few times and have been eyeing up one of my own. My amazing wife organised one for my birthday from my parents and her parents which I have been duly enjoying. They sell for about £100 second-hand for one in decent condition and they’re an incredible lens for that price. Mine even came with front and rear lens caps and a petal lens hood. I’m not sure if you can still buy them new. I got mine from Real Camera in Manchester, but as they were a kit lens they do tend to pop up.


I’ve been using mine solidly for a week now (and have used it before when I’ve been able to borrow one) and think it’s a fantastic lens. The aperture is faster at its longest focal length than most equivalent lenses (f/4.5 vs. f/5.6 typically). Not only is that two-thirds of a stop of light extra, it also means blurring the background is easier. Speaking of blurred background, the bokeh of the lens is smooth and pleasant (I think it’s almost creamy!) in out-of-focus areas. For the money you also get a metal mount rather than plastic. It has a focus ring that you can override without having to flick a switch to manual focussing, although you probably won’t want to because the auto-focussing is blisteringly fast and accurate, so can keep up with my 10-month old effortlessly. The zoom range is comprehensive (wide angle to portrait) without being too much (I think zooms that do too much tend to create poorer images or are hugely expensive). The wide (28mm) equivalent is great for landscapes, and the portrait (105mm equivalent) is beautiful for headshots.


All this combines to create a lens that simply has no comparison for it’s price point, and is superior to lenses many times its price. It’s only when you start spending over £500 for a zoom lens that you get comparable features and faster apertures. Why miss out?


But why get a new lens when I have a great 35mm prime? True, the 35mm does an admirable job of most tasks, but I specifically wanted a well-built (i.e., not plastic mounted) lens that has a wide focal length for landscape photographs. I considered wider lenses (e.g. the 10-20mm Sigma) but these were significantly more expensive, so the 18-70mm was a good compromise of build quality, wide angle (although not ultra-wide) and price.


The point is, I wanted to achieve a certain look from my landscape photographs that my 35mm couldn’t accomplish. That’s not to say I couldn’t use it for landscape photography, and in fact I have on many occasions. The purchase of a new lens, then, was to make specific images, not to have more lenses or because I thought a new lens would magically make me a better photographer. I try to keep this in mind when ogling any new photography kit: will it help me to make photographs I want to make? Not, will it make it a better photographer? The lens won’t do anything unless you know what you want to achieve with it.





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