- AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED
- AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G
- AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G
- AF-S NIKKOR 70–200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
- AF-S NIKKOR 70–200mm f/4G ED VR
- AF-S NIKKOR 80–400mm f/4.5–5.6G ED VR
- AF-S DX NIKKOR 18–300mm f/3.5–6.3G ED VR
Ultimately, the best way to buy a DSLR camera is not to buy it first – the lens is first because it must be carefully matched with the kind of images you want to shoot. Now, if you bought backwards, as many new and hobbyist DSLR shooters do, then you won’t lose your DSLR photography membership card. It’s likely you bought your DSLR bundled with an 18–55mm, 18–105mm, 18–135mm or 18–140mm lens, depending on the manufacturer. All of these “kit” lenses are good for general casual photography and will allow you to start to explore various photographic genres, such as portraits, landscapes and sports. When you’re ready to accelerate your skills and results in these and other genres, however, you must consider acquiring higher quality lenses.
Quite likely, the biggest challenge of portrait photography is not equipment, but that your subjects are people; and they want their portraits to be as pleasing and as attractive as possible. After all, they’ll want to share them with everyone in their lives. You better believe that most of them will tell you if they’re not happy with the images you’ve shot, which is the major reason selecting the right portrait lens is so important.
Contrary to what may seem logical, a wide-angle or even “normal” lens (or 50mm on a full-frame DSLR) is not a good portrait lens because either lens distorts facial features, especially the nose, which will look bigger and that is not flattering. You want to choose a lens and/or focal length that is slightly telephoto, with 85mm considered ideal by many professional portrait photographers. Don’t forget the crop factor if you have a DSLR with an APS-C sensor, which means a 50mm lens is the equivalent of 75–80mm on a full-frame camera.
The other important consideration when choosing the right portrait photography lens is that a prime, or fixed focal length lens, is better because it typically has a very wide maximum aperture, f/1.4 or f/1.8. Lenses with these apertures tend to produce better quality images than zoom lenses and you’ll have more control of depth of field, so the background is pleasingly blurred, which emphasizes your subject. In addition, you want the versatility of shooting available-light portraits, so you’ll need those wide apertures to capture more light. Plus, you don’t want to hike the ISO setting, which could add digital noise to your portraits, making them unacceptable.
Among Nikon lenses, the best portrait lens would be the AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G.
Generally, landscape photography is all about capturing big, wide and open spaces, be they a cityscape, seascape, a spectacular mountain range, red-rock mesas and buttes, endless prairies and deserts, wild and raging rivers or panoramas. The first lens that probably comes to mind is a wide angle, so you have a wide field of vision for a grand vista as well as all the interesting objects in a narrower composition.
One of the first lessons of landscape photography is to compose an image that includes some small point of interest in the foreground in contrast with a larger point of interest in the background. You need a wide-angle lens or focal length to include both within the frame. Think of a field of colorful wild flowers in the foreground with the gray rocks and snowy peaks of a mountain range in the distance. On a beach, you position your camera at a low angle with a crab just inches from your lens and the whole expanse of the beach, the sea and the sky behind it.
Again, a prime or fixed-focal-length wide-angle lens with a fast aperture is your best choice for landscapes – and for many of the same reasons as portrait photography, although you are unlikely to hear any complaints from the crab if you distort its facial features. Because the best landscape images are often found during the magic hours of sunrise and sunset, the light will be low, so you need that fast aperture to gather plenty of light and not be forced to shoot at slower shutter speeds.
Sports photography includes the fast action on the field of play as well as the constant repositioning of the photographer for the best angles of view. This is why the first consideration for a sports photography lens is its size and weight. Now, you’ve likely seen professional sports photographers shooting with extremely large telephoto lenses of 500mm, 600mm, 800mm and even longer focal lengths with a lens attached to a monopod. This, of course, is the ultimate setup for sports photography, but the cost of these lenses totally eliminates them as options for hobbyists and amateurs.
It’s likely your sports photography will be limited to your kids’ sports teams. Therefore, a better choice for you is a zoom lens of 70–200mm or even 80–400mm. These will allow you to capture detail at greater distances as well as shooting medium-range photos or team group pictures and you won’t have to carry a lens that weighs the equivalent of a cannon on a tank.
A good sports photography lens will also have some form of image stabilization (IS), which compensates for camera shaking and vibrations that may occur when shooting with a long lens and handholding your camera. These IS systems allow you to shoot at faster shutter speeds without the need for a tripod.
A compromise option to buying any of the prime lenses or sports-specialty zoom lenses above is an all-in-one, or general-purpose, lens that allows you to shoot portraits, landscapes, sports and most other types of images. The trade-offs are that an all-in-one lens doesn’t have the very wide aperture of a portrait or landscape lens and doesn’t typically produce the image quality of these other lenses. You simply may not be able to afford the price of a prime portrait or landscape lens or a better sports lens, however; and an all-in-one lens is often half or less the price of many of these lenses.
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