Post 7: Lenses: The winners and the losers

September 03, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Since I received my first DSLR in early 2011, I've had my fair share of lenses. Here is all of the glass I've ever owned, and which ones I would buy again if I had to do it over. 

I'm using a cropped sensor body at the moment, so all of the focal lengths are multiplied by 1.5X, so keep that in mind.

Nikon 18-55mm VR: Ah yes, the kit lens. My first DSLR was a D3100, and there was no "body only" option. Had there been, I would have definitely gone that direction. There wasn't anything necessarily wrong with this lens, but there wasn't anything great about it either. The primary reason I would have gone with the body only option was becasue I knew I was going to get rid of it eventually. Some of the things I hated most about this lens was how much of a toy it felt like, the way it focused, and the "focus ring," which was really just the end of the lens. Being able to shoot at 18mm for this cheap is a definite plus, though, and I've considered buying another one once or twice. However, the chances of me actually buying another one are slim. 

Nikon 55-200 VR: The 18-55's bigger brother. I also received this lens with my D3100 in a bundle. This lens was okay. Like the kit lens, there wasn't anything to hate and there wasn't anything to love. I sold this lens mostly because I couldn't stand the variable aperture. Some less significant reasons I sold this lens was because it was smaller and didn't look professional (just being honest), and it felt too much like a toy. This is another lens I probably wouldn't buy again.

Nikon 35mm 1.8G DX: This was the first lens I ever bought myself and I loved it. After I bought this lens, the 18-55mm almost never came out. This lens was also my first prime lens, which started my love affair with them. I haven't really been able to pin down the quality of this lens yet. Some photos look great and others look terrible. I fine-tuned the AF on this lens a few months back, which I think will help. This lens was replaced by the Nikon 50mm 1.8G my wife bought for me, so it doesn't get used much by me anymore. It can be found hanging out on my wife's camera, though. I would probably save up for Nikon's new 35mm 1.8G or find a Nikon 24mm before buying this lens again. It was great before the new 35mm 1.8G came out and when I was first starting, though.

Tamron 70-300mm VC: I traded in my 55-200mm for this lens, and it was pretty good. The AF was really fast; much faster than the Tamron 70-200mm that replaced it. I still couldn't get past the variable aperture though, and I wanted that f/2.8 aperture. I couldn't see myself purchasing this lens again. 

Nikon 50mm 1.8D: Before I had the 50mm 1.8G, I had the D version. This lens is almost legendary because of its price-to-performance ratio. It's one of Nikon's least expensive but, supposedly, sharpest lenses. I never really had the chance to use it much, though. I had it for two months at most before one of our cats knocked my camera off our desk and damaged the lens. I remember not being a fan of the colors of this lens though, so my cat might have done me a favor by breaking it and giving me a reason to get the 50mm 1.8G. Since Nikon released the G version, there's really no reason to buy this lens unless you really can't afford to spend the extra $90, or so. I would pass on this and, without hesitating, buy the G version.

Nikon 50mm 1.8G: I love this lens. So much. Before my 85mm 1.8G, I would use this lens 95% of the time. I would take this lens over the 50mm 1.4G because of the aspherical element the f/1.8 has. There's really nothing else I can say about this lens other than it's one of my all time favorites. I would buy this lens over and over again.

Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8: I traded in my Tamron 70-300mm for this. I was super excited to finally have a 70-200mm f/2.8 like all the pros had. I didn't realize at the time that the majority of pros don't shoot with third-party glass though, and I found out the hard way why. This lens was a bit of a let down. When I got it, I was about to start shooting the home games for the Janesville Jets, and this lens had trouble keeping up. I made it work, but the autofocus speed was a joke, and would often miss completely for whatever reason. The things worth mentioning about this lens was it focused internally, was made of all metal, and had a tripod collar. This lens was also pretty sharp. I probably wouldn't consider buying this, or any third party lens, again. If I didn't shoot anything fast paced, I think this lens could work. I used it for a few portraits and liked the results. 

Nikon 24mm f/2.8 MF: I wanted to get a wide angle lens before I went to Utah with my wife and some friends for landscape photos. This 24mm was incredibly inexpensive as far as lenses go. It was recently replaced by an AF version only because the rear cap came off of this lens in my bag and the rear element got a little scratched. I also wasn't the best at focusing manually, so investing in an AF version was only a matter of time. The version I had was really old, and had been modified so it could work on DSLRs. I think it also got damaged when it shipped, because the aperture ring was pretty stiff and it would squeak when focused. I wouldn't have replaced this lens if it hadn't gotten scratched, but I'm not necessarily angry about that happening, either. I do miss the metal construction of this lens compared to the all plastic lens that replaced it, though.

Nikon 180mm f/2.8: If you're still reading this, wow... I didn't expect this post to be this long, but I've come too far to quit now. I bought this lens with the money I made selling the Tamron 70-200mm. I used this lens a lot and was pretty fond of it. I wasn't crazy about the colors or contrast, but the sharpness of the lens made me easily overlook those drawbacks. This lens was also metal and dirt cheap for what it was. The biggest downside of this lens was the lack of a tripod collar. Putting that much weight on the front of my camera when on a tripod didn't work out very well. The only reason I sold this lens was because I bought a 300mm f/4 and couldn't see myself using this lens much anymore. If I happen upon some extra money, I might strongly considering buying another one of these...

Nikon 105mm f/2.5 Ai MF: This is another very well known piece of glass from Nikon. I bought this along with the 180mm to fill the void left by selling the 70-200mm. I love this lens and the way it feels when I focus it. I also love the bokeh this lens produces and the price I got it for. There are a lot of lenses out there that are "obsolete" that can be had for a jokingly amount of money. I think I picked this lens up for less than $100, and I would probably do it again. I never used this lens much though, and that's even more the case after buying the Nikon 85mm. Before I had the 85mm, I would usually play it safe and use the 50mm with AF instead. I decided to keep this lens since I don't think I'll be able to get much for it, and I kind of feel like it's a piece of camera history. 

Nikon 85mm 1.8G: This is my new favorite lens. I lusted over this lens for two years before I finally decided to pull the trigger and pick one up on rebate. I wish I had sooner. I love this lens. I love the bokeh it produces. I love the sharpness at f/1.8. I love the perspective it gives. I love the weight of it. I love the look of it. It's the best lens I've ever had. I might even like it more than my 50mm. I love shooting with this lens and I want to weep a little every time I see the photos I create with it. I wouldn't change a thing about this lens. I try to make this lens work in every situation and use it as much as possible. It's a no-brainer; I would buy this lens again. 

Nikon 300mm f/4: This is the older version of this lens, and I love it. Not the same kind of love I have for the 50mm or 85mm, but almost. I bought this lens when I went though a slight wildlife photography phase and before my wife and I headed to Wyoming for our honeymoon. This is the most inexpensive lens you'll be able to find with this amount of zoom and performance. This lens was the perfect solution for someone who wanted more reach than the 180mm could offer, but didn't want to spend at least $2,000 (but almost certainly more) on a super-telephoto. I have the option of getting a teleconverter if I want more reach, but AF isn't supported with Nikon teleconverters and I haven't heard good things about the third party teleconverters. If I do decide to go with a TC, I still will have spent less than if I would have bought Nikon's 400mm, 500mm, 600mm, or 800mm. Actually, I would be able to buy nine 300mm f/4 with a teleconverter for the same price of Nikon's 500mm, which is the most inexpensive of the aforementioned super-teles. It'd be hard to beat the price for what you get with this lens, so I would almost certainly buy it again. I might save up for the newer version, but it's hard justifying spending almost twice as much. The 300mm focal length blurs the background effortlessly, and the f/4 maximum aperture isn't a problem for me. I'd like the f/2.8 version better, but I'd like not spending more than $5,000 more. Oh yeah, this lens has a tripod collar, unlike the 180mm; happy day. This lens is also all metal and pretty similar to the 180mm in construction, it seems.

Nikon 24mm f/2.8 af: This is the most recent lens I've purchased, and the conclusion to this novel (finally. I'm tired of typing). I bought this to replace my 24mm that was scratched. It's nice having AF again, and I can see myself shooting with this focal length more because of it. This lens is mostly plastic, so it doesn't feel anywhere near as good as my older 24mm. I also don't like that the focus ring turns when the lens autofocuses. I read the optical formula is the same as the older, manual focus version I had, which is a good thing. Fortunately, this lens wasn't too expensive, and I see it more as a temporary solution until I've saved enough pennies for the Nikon 28mm f/1.8. I would buy this lens again if I were in a pinch/didn't want to shell out the $700 for the 28mm f/1.8.

So there you have it. If you read this entire post, kudos. I should have split this post up into multiple posts, but then I doubt I would have ever finished the second part. Now that I'm done, I can't help but feel like I forgot a lens or two. If you have any questions about these lenses, contact me and I'll tell you more about them.


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Dan Pomykalski (PAWM-I-KALS-kee) is a portrait photographer based in Madison, WI. Dan works with both individual clients and larger organizations, such as the Wisconsin Alumni Foundation, the Janesville Jets, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and the University of Wisconsin-Rock County. Dan was also the photo editor for the student-run newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the Royal Purple, for the 2013 Spring and 2013 Fall semesters. Although Dan's clients are mostly from the Dane County area, he is more than happy to travel wherever necessary. 

Dan's photographs have been described as impressive, dramatic, and beautiful. Dan doesn't offer the cheapest prices, and his work reflects that. The client can expect a stress-free experience and high-quality photos to be delivered in a timely fashion. 

Dan's favorite part about his job is the overwhelmingly positive reactions his photos always receive from his clients, their friends, and their family members. The photos Dan produces are just as important to him as they are to his clients, and his ultimate goal is always to create the absolute best photographs he can.


Although Dan is primarily a portrait photographer, he has ample amounts of experience in other types of photography such as weddings, events, product photography, real estate, and sport photography.


In 2016, ranked Dan Pomykalski Photography the 2nd best portrait photographer in Madison, WI out of 204 others in the area. 

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