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Photography Question 
Ali R. Sinnes

What Zoom Lens Should I get?

I am an amateur photographer who shoots mostly family and my son. I have a Nikon D50 with a standard 18-55mm lens. I am looking to buy a lense with more zoom. I am not sure if I should get a 18-135 or a 55-200. I do not want to have to carry around 2 different lenses all the time. I want a lens that will be versatile for me. Can someone please shed some light on this for me? Thanks!

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1/30/2008 10:30:47 AM

Kevin Moss   Ali,
I am an instructor with I teach Photoshop and Elements for Nature Photographers. I get these questions all the time from my students, and from other photographers when I present to photo clubs.
To answer your question:
The 18-55mm lens you have is actually a very good one. If you're on a budget, I recommend the new Nikon 55-200mm. For the price, I hear it is an excellent choice. If you have some money in your budget, the best zoom I've used on my Nikon gear is the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VR. It's one of the best lenses in my arsenal.
For portraits, I recommend the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 fixed (sharp! and about $100), or the 105mm Nikon macro lens, again, sharp, but around $750. Both are great portrait lenses.
Happy shooting!
Kevin Moss: Pro BetterPholio at

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1/30/2008 10:37:09 AM

William Schuette
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/8/2006
  Hi Alli, I concur with all of Kevin's comments but just wanted to add one thought. If you are looking for a single versatile lens to leave on your camera about 90% of the time, consider the 18-200 VR, not quite as fast as the others but an incredible zoom range that makes it usable in a large number of circumstances.


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1/31/2008 5:26:19 AM

Kevin Moss  
  Moab, Utah
Moab, Utah
Nikon D70, Nikon 50mm f/1.8 fixed lens
© Kevin Moss
Nikon D70 Digital ...
Ali, Bill,

I haven't used the Nikon 18-200 VR, and I was wondering, how good of a lens is it? Bill, if you have any thoughts, I'd love to hear your feedback.

Also, I viewed your BetterPhoto website, and I loved the Elk skull image. I have one similar from a trip I took to Utah. I've posted that pic!

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1/31/2008 6:52:06 AM

William Schuette
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/8/2006
  Hi Kevin, I think of the 18-200 VR as a perfect hiking/wandering around lens, You can go from wideangle to telephoto without changing lenses. It is compact and light. Now here are the compromises for these advantages.

1) It is a little slower than other lenses and has a variable aperture of 3.5 to 5.6. The variable aperture bothered me more than the speed but the auto ISO function on the D300 has resolved some of the problems with the variable aperture since the camera can now up the ISO to maintain shutter speed. Also, the VR is invaluable at slower shutter speeds or longer focal lengths.

2) It is not a designated pro lens and the build quality while good is not that of a pro lens. Specifically, the lens will extend if pointed downward.

3) There is some very minor distortion particularly at the extremes but overall it is acceptable.

4) Although sharpness and contrast are acceptable they certainly do not match that of the 70-200mm. But it is quite good. In fact the elk skull photo was taken with the 18-200 at probably its sharpest aperture f/8.0. I did some burning in to enhance the dimensionality.

5) It has good bokeh but not the truly creamy backgrounds of the 105 micro. The 18-200 bokeh appears slightly grainier but if unacceptable this could easily be made "creamier" with some gaussian blur.

Overall, this is a great lens when you need to travel light or you are going to be in an environment where you do not want to change your lens.

I liked your elk particularly the weathered feel of it. If you cropped it or have other shots, I think a little more of the background weathered wood would make for a great contrast. Mine was taken in a studio I just set up while playing with the strobes to make sure everything was working. The background is the out of focus concrete floor with the stains from the sheet rock mud.


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1/31/2008 3:28:46 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
  Good post William, but I must disagree with some of your observations on the 18-200 VR.

1) The lens wil NOT creep out as long as you retract it fully. Mine doesn't.

2)2.8 Vs 3.5? Is that really all that much? It's not even one f/stop.

For the money spent..again; for the money spent, the 18-200mm is unbeatable.

The biggest decision factor I gave when I bought this lens (other than overall quality) was this; I do NOT have to change lenses in the field very often. (i.e) DUST & DIRT! ARRRGH!

Color & Contrast: These I can play with in post processing if necessary...If I shoot it right, I don't have too.

The VRII feature is a lifesaver in many instances!

Yes, I agree, the 70-200 is better in build quality and somewhat better in overall optical quality.

Ali..Many people prefer long lenses for portraits.
It all comes down to tradeoffs. You can't have everything in just one lens.

all the best,


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2/2/2008 6:11:52 AM

Kevin Moss  
Pete, Bill, Ali,

Great exchange of ideas. I do not have the 18-200mm VR, so I can't comment on it directly.

I did go to Pete's BetterPhoto website, and noticed his great shot of the Lunar Eclipse. I have one similar that I'll post here.

I'd also like to hear more about the 18-200mm lens. Like Pete has stated, I bet its a great walk-around lens. And if you slug around two Nikon's on your photo journey's like I do, its probably a great lens to have on your second camera...


Kevin Moss

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2/2/2008 6:46:15 AM

William Schuette
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/8/2006
  Kevin and Pete, I hope I was not misunderstood. I love the 18-200 VR and use it around 50% of the time. I was just trying to point out the compromises that Nikon had to make to get the amazing versatility of this lens. I don't consider f/3.5 slow but when it goes to 5.6 it is a little slow. Although this is well compensated for by the VRII, the VR does not solve the need for faster shutter speeds to freeze action. I have had some good results using the auto ISO feature on the D300 to allow the camera to bump up the ISO to keep shutter speeds faster to solve this problem. I have not noticed whether my lens creeps when fully retracted but will check. The problem with this characteristic is when you are using a tripod to shoot downward you may need to tape the lens at the desired focal length to keep it from creeping. Again, I highly recommend the lens and it is well worth the $700-$800 price. Compared to its advantages, the compromises are pretty minor and if necessary can generally be easily corrected in any photo editor. Another advantage of the lens that has not been mentioned is that it focuses much closer than any other lens I can think of that reaches a 200mm focal length. I think the minimum focusing distance is around 15 inches.


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2/2/2008 7:57:44 AM

Kevin Moss   Hey Bill/Pete:

A few years ago, I was using a Tamron 18-200 on a Canon Digital Rebel. A lot of my students were using the Canon, so I went out and purchased one. I was happy to have an all-in one lens on the Canon, but, the lens needed a lot of light, and wasn't a good lens in some situations. Good all around walking lens, like the Nikon, but not appropriate for all situations. I'm sure the Nikon has better image quality, OEM lenses often do compared to third-party lenses, but the premise is the same.

Thanks for responding!

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2/2/2008 8:17:04 AM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
  Great discussion.
One of the few times I think we are all pretty much in agreement.

William; you used the word "compromises." Great word and VERY appropriate when deciding on a lens.
That is what I was trying to get across to Ali...Lens selection goes far beyond quality alone; it is indeed a compromise as no single lens can do it all perfectly.

I recently acquired the D-300. The new sensor has really opened up so much more in the way of available light shooting. The image noise at even ISO 1600 is hardly objectionable. This fact makes the 18-200VR even more useful.
..and true again William, shooting with a tripod with the lens down; it will creep out..I think Nikon could have easily solved this one. LOL

Kevin; I could give you a user review, but you may find it easier to do a search on the lens. Just google it as "Nikon 18-200mm VR +reviews" You will get a ton of info.

I guess the term "walkaround: lens means different things to all of us.
I suppose if my job was to shoot nothing but wild life, the 18-200 would NOT be my choice; obviously.

I suppose if we want a lens like we see on the NFL sidelines, we could spend about $14,000! I call that "lens envy" and I suffer from that affliction as many do. LOL

Ali; again, lens choice requires that YOU ask yourself some questions.

1) Budget? This often drives the decision. What you do NOT want to do is put a crappy cheap lens on your camera.
Old saying.."Good lenses aren't cheap; cheap lenses aren't good"
While the Nikon 50mm prime (1.8 or 1.2) is really not a good lens for portrait photography, it is unbelievably sharp and pretty fast. The price? $100! This lens is probably one of Nikon's best kept secrets. A little more money for the 1.2 This lens stays on my 2nd camera all the time now.
Opinion: I would rather have ONE decent lens, than compromise quality for a crappy all around lens. Crappy lenses seem to be the reason we see posts like "Why are my pictures bad?" LOL I'm serious. Beginners will often lose interest in photography because of this.
Specifically; Nikon's 18-200VR is NOT a crappy lens.

2) What do you primarily shoot? If you do portraits most of the time; then I'd suggest a quality 135mm prime or better.
Sports photography? A fast 300mm prime or better.

" am an amatuer photographer who shoots mostly family and my son. I have a Nikon D50 with a standard 18 to 55 lens."

NOT a good lens for portrait type shots.
It is a GREAT lens, but not for people.
The reason is that the short focal length is not complimentary to people. Noses look big, eye sockets appear sunk in. It accentuates and give too much of a (3D) look. Longer lenses will flatten the image which is what you want for people.

3) Are you comfortable changing lenses in the field? Personally I am not for reasons of dirt & dust getting on my I carry 2 cameras as many do.
One with a zoom and one with the 500mm prime.

Ali..You might want to (rent) a few lenses..see what you like and do not like. Once you find one that you feel fits your budget and shooting style; buy it!

all the best,


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2/2/2008 10:31:39 AM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
  "One with a zoom and one with the 500mm prime."

Ooops!..I meant 50mm. LOL

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2/2/2008 10:35:54 AM

William Schuette
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/8/2006
  I was wondering how strong your back was to carry a zoom and a 500mm prime.


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2/2/2008 11:37:52 AM

John G. Clifford Jr
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/18/2005
  Get the Sigma 50-200/2.8 EX APO lens. Very sharp, bright, small... a fantastic lens. IMO a better choice than the 18-200 VR because of the higher lens quality and the wider aperture means you don't NEED to use image stabilization (VR).

I'm not a big fan of the consumer-level image stabilization lenses. Yes, they work. But, too often, the manufacturers have added image stabilization to mediocre lenses. Far better to get better optical quality.

BTW, if you really want to see how good your camera is, get a Nikon 50/1.8 AI-S manual focus lens off of eBay. You will be AMAZED at how sharp it is, and it will spoil you.

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2/2/2008 6:18:53 PM

William Schuette
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/8/2006
  Ali, I may have misinterpreted John's comment about VR but just to clarify, the VR on the 18-200 is the new VRII that Nikon is using on its pro series lenses. It is not some inferior version for cheaper lenses. In my experience it operates as promised, you can handhold about 3-4 stops slower depending on the focal length. From everything I have read, the Sigmas is an excellent lens but it should really be compared to the Nikon 70-200 mm 2.8 as both are telephoto zooms on DX format cameras and neither has the main advantage of the 18-200 - a wideangle to telephoto zoom focal length in a single lens.


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2/5/2008 7:20:38 AM

Allen M. Aisenstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/3/2005
  Hi Ali, I know 3 photographers who, like you, wanted to pair down to just one lens. They bought the Nikon 18-200 mm VR lens and are extremely satisfied.

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2/5/2008 8:34:15 AM

Ali R. Sinnes   Thanks so much for everyones help and opinions to my question. It really did help alot.

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2/5/2008 11:14:39 AM

Susan M. Smith
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/22/2004
Contact Susan
Susan's Gallery
  Hi Ali,

I have a Nikon D50 with the kit lens. I looked at the 18-200mm VR for a long time (mostly waiting for the price to come down...LOL). In the end, I bought the Nikkor 70-300mm VR lens. (I paid $400) This was because wanting a longer lens (son's football games and nature photography)outweighed my needing the wide angle (which I already have with the kits 18-55mm). The 70-300mm is more affordable and I find it to be perfectly acceptable as a "walk-about" lens, especially at events that I attend. No, it's not a super fast 1.8 but I feel the VR, in this case, picks up some of the slack in lower lighting situations. I'm not an expert on this, but my understanding is that a 70-120mm range is perfect for portrait photography. Oh and you can use the VR with a monopod (also helpful at football games).

Recently, I got the 50mm 1.8 and I LOVE IT! I've only used it for what I call "table top" photography. The first two images in my gallery were taken with that lens.

I hope the info on the 70-300mm VR helps.

Good luck and good shooting! ~Susan~

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2/6/2008 6:39:37 AM

Tom Recklein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/6/2006
  I also have a D50 and I was able to pick up a Sigma 70-300mm 5.6 for less than $200. It's only limitation is you have to back off about 7ft or so to get it to focus. It is sometimes a pain to carry an extra lens but if you can decide, more than 7 ft or less than 7ft, you can take the one you want and get some good stuff. I get better portraits from a distance and zooming than up close. It seems to let the SB800 flash do it's magic..

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2/9/2008 9:58:00 AM

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