24-70 f2.8 or 17-55DX or ? for a D90

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by mart_e, Jun 23, 2010.

  1. Apologies for yet another post seeking lens advice - but I am trying to decide whether to invest in another lens - and which one.
    I currently shoot with a D90, and have the following lenses for everyday shooting :
    12-24 DX (probably my most used lens - although frustratingly short a lot of the time when it is my only lens - mostly used in the 18-24 range)
    50mm 1.4 AF-D (used for low light, and for some table-top photography)
    105mm f2.8 Micro VR
    I also have a 18-70 lens that came with my D70 - a lens that I no longer really use as I find the results dissapointing compared to my other lenses, but will keep due to an attachment to it as my previous workhorse, and as a back up. I also have a 300mm f4 AF-S which I use for specific excursions.
    With my main 3 lenses - I have a pretty fundamental gap in focal length from 24-50 50-105.
    I'm looking to plug this with a lens that will be my main walkabout. I am looking for a good quality lens, and don't mind too much weight (I realise both the 24-70 and the 17-55 are on the weighty side).
    I have tried to work out what my main shooting length would be - but it various so much. Ideally I would like a lens that I could lug about on city breaks for architectural shots, details, streets, landscapes etc. Neither the 24-70 or the 17-55 would give me exactly what I'm after (either falling slightly short, or too long) - but from reading reviews, they would meet my desire for IQ (photographer permitting of course).
    I plan to upgrade to FX at some point - primarily due to wanting to use perspective control lenses for architectural shots, and needing the FX (D700) to access the wider end of the 24mm PCE. This may not be for 6-18 months though.
    I'm edging towards the 24-70 at present, as it dovetails well with my 12-24DX and would allow me to extend to 70 (useful for building details / portraits). The 17-55 would probably satisfy more of my typical shots with a single lens - but would hamper me at either end (compared to carrying the other 2).
    The fact that the 17-55 is DX is also a concern for me if I upgrade to FX in say 6 months time.
    Any thoughts - How does IQ compare between the two lenses ? and are there any other candidates out there ? (I'm not too familiar with non-Nikon glass).
    many thanks,
  2. In terms of overall IQ, the two lenses are pretty much on par - at least insofar as you can see with the naked eye. The 24-70 does present a slight pincushion distortion around 35mm, but that is only observable under specific conditions and the latest version of LR can fix it in moments without breaking a sweat...
    But your hesitation is well founded: the 24-70 will continue to be useful whichever way you go - FX or APS, while the 17-55 will be practically useless once you go the FX way. Pricewise the two lenses are comparable and weight-wise they are the same, so your choice depends on whether you want to be future-proof or not.
    3rd party lenses can be okay, especially the new 24-70 Sigma one, but they are really not the same as Nikon glass. On the other hand, they can provide a good intermediate point for the next 12-18 months while you decide whether to move to FX or not...
  3. A 17-55/2.8 is arguably the "normal" pro-level zoom lens for a cropping camera. Whether it makes sense to purchase an expensive DX lens in a world moving toward FX is another matter. A 24-70/2.8 is the "normal" lens for an FX camera, but a little long for a D70. In the short term, it's not that useful to you, but it's looking ahead.
    A lot depends on your shooting patterns. I use a 17-35/2.8, 28-70/2.8 and 70-200/2.8 for most of my shooting. My useage with a D2x (cropping) worked out to be about 50/15/35 percent respectively, shooting a mix of events, plays and concerts and landscapes. I find the 28-70 well suited to landscapes (I tend to shoot long rather than short), portraits and formal groups (given enough room to back up). It's a little long for events, and I would use it much less if I had a 17-55.
    I find relatively little use for the 17-35 with a D3 (full frame), and the 28-70 has become my mainstay, with the 70-200 a close second. Now, the 70-200 is the lens I pick up for portraits, but seems a little short for many long shots, and I use a 300/4 a lot more than before (with a good ISO 1600, I don't need VR as much).
  4. By all reports the Tamron 17-50 f2.8 is close if not equal to the Nikon 17-55, and its a lot less expensive so maybe less of an investment if you go FX in the near future. Also, would the Nikon 16-85 fit your need?
  5. Many thanks for the quick replies.
    I think I'll head out next time with the 12-24 - and keep it at 24, see impact it will have on my shooting style.
    If it causes me too much grief in preventing me widening that extra beyond 24mm then I'll know that the switching point of 24mm will be a real pain - and that a range of 17-55 would be more useful.
    Having said that - I already have to switch from 12-24 to 50mm prime - and have to miss out on that range from 24-50. The 50mm alone is too restrictive as a walkaround - apart from those occassions where I deliberately want to work at composition by having that limitatation (one of the reasons I got that lens - along with interior table-top work).
    The 17-35mm is outside my budget at present - and likely to remain so, if I had the cash I would spend that extra £500 over the 24-70 on a trip, or put towards the upgrade to FX.
  6. How about selling the 12-24mm and buying the new 16-35mm or possibly the 17-35mm? You lose a bit of the wide end but gain a lot in a more useful range on DX. Once you get an FX camera you end up with a versatile lens (which is probably a bit wider than is strictly useful) and you still have the middle ground covered by the 50mm.
    I photograph the same things as you pretty much and personally I found mid-range zooms only really useful when I was shooting people at parties/events on the rare occasions I did it. In short I didn't find having the middle range covered terribly useful - certaily not with such a bulky lens. But of course that is only my opinion. For a while I was very happy with the 17-35mm, 50mm and 80-200mm but now I have managed to boil those down to 3 primes but that's another discussion.
  7. If you're getting worse results with your 18-70, shot correctly, than the 50 f1.4, it may be because you are either pixel-peeping at a level that has no bearing on your actual printed output or have a defective 18-70 or perhaps are using different technique with one than the other.
    I'l put it simply, at f5.6 or f8 I can take the same photo on my D90 with my 18-70 as my 50mm f1.8 at 50 or my 35mm f1.8 at 35 and in an 11 x 14 print, they will look virtually the same. Even bigger they probably will. The only reason I go to them is low-light shooting and to discipline my feet instead of my zoom finger.
    I think 24-70 is not a good range for DX, so I'd go with the 17-55, but I am not so sure you need a new lens. I'd wait and save and just get the 24-70 when you upgrade to FX.
  8. While some more people will indeed continue shell out the money for FX bodies and related glass, DX is going to be with us for a very long time. A non-abused 17-55/2.8 will fetch nearly what you pay for it when you go to sell it. And while you're shooting DX, you'll really like that "appropriate" range. It's such a natural fit.
  9. I had a 17-55/2.8 and my mate had a 24-70/2.8 on our D90s....both lenses were supurb....only reason i sold mine was thst i have gne to a D700 and a 28-70/2.8, but like the Matt says, you get your money back on the lens easy. The answer, pick your favourite range and just buy one ;)
  10. Why don't you rent a 17-55mm f2.8 and see how it works in focal length. If you like it then fine a good used one until it is FX time. That would cover your 18-24 most used range and give the extra out to 50mm that you want. If you get a 24-70mm you will still be changing lenses and double your carry weight.
  11. Thanks again for the replies - more food for thought.
    Peter - the limitation I find with the 18-70 is mainly around colour, bokeh and not being quite fast enough. I'm not knocking the lens, it has served me well for 6 years or more. It lacks a touch of sharpness, and isn't great across it's entire range, and suffers from a bit of unpredicatable distortion and colour fringing / CA. I do find a difference when comparing images.
    My need for a new lens is that I am consistently finding that I lack something in the 24-50 range (I don't pack my 18-70 for the aforementioned reasons) - and end up switching between the 12-24 and my 50mm in the field - and still have a shortfall in coverage.
    My thinking in going for the 24-70, is that whilst it wouldn't resolve my needs in one lens and would still require switching, at least it would cover 12-70 between the two - and I would probably stick with the 24-70 for most of the time.
    Buying / selling second hand here in Northern Ireland is harder that it probably is in the US, or London, not impossible, but hard. For that reason, I always assume that I will hold onto a lens for some time once bought (hence the hand-ringing before plunging in with a hand-full of cash).
    I don't doubt the 17-55 is a better one-lens-suits-most applications than the others, part of me is reticient about this lens because it duplicates coverage with the 12-24, and that it may not be as useful for me once I make a move to FX (although I would retain my D90 - so the 17-55 would still be usable there).
    I'll sleep on it tonight - and tomorrow, I'll probably switch allegiance to the 17-55 and back to the 24-70 at least a dozen times.
  12. I love my 24-70 - it's plenty wide on my D90 for my shooting style and 55mm is not long enough for me. If I need wider I have an 18-135mm DX lens. I used to have my 70-300VR as my walkaround lens when out with my kids but now the 24-70 is on most of the time. It is heavy but not terribly so. I have the MB-D80 grip on my camera and use a Black Rapid R-Strap to keep the weight off of my neck - hangs really nicely at my side - the only thing that's a little annoying is the 24-70's hood - it is a locking style and the release button rattles at times.
  13. since you already have a 12-24, a 24-70 wouldnt be an unsensible purchase, for all the reasons you describe. there is an inexpensive option here, as well: the tamron 28-75/2.8. it's a compact, FX-compatible older brother to the 17-50 with pretty much the same optics.i've read a lot of reports that d700 owners are using it as a walkaround lens, though its also good for events and portraits on DX. a bit short with a d90, but like i said before, that's mitigrated by the 12-24.
    while i'm at this, let me throw out another option: the sigma 50-150/2.8. it's a compact, high-performance portrait zoom which is probably the single most versatile lens out there for DX. no VR, but its compact and handholdable. the IF and zoom ring action are pretty sweet, and it acquires focus very fast. i personally find the 24-50 range less essential than covering the extreme wide angle to long telephoto range, but YMMV. one advantage the 50-150 has over a 70-200,besides its shorter length and weight, is that it starts 20mm earlier. i often pair it with my 12-24 for daytime events, or the 17-50 when i want continuous coverage. it's good enough at 2.8 to be a sports/action/low-light lens, and sharpens up enough at 5.6 for portraits.
  14. I use FX and while I find 24-70 to be great for indoor shots such as environmental portraits of people in offices, and indoor events such as weddings, I have to switch to a longer lens for a tight portrait, and this happens often. A 28-85/2.8 or perhaps even 35-105/2.8 would satisfy my needs better, but I know there are people who prefer more wide angle on their standard zooms. I would think the 24-70 range would work nicely with DX cameras, especially since you already have the 12-24 range covered with another lens. Since you're planning on purchasing an FX camera, buying another expensive DX lens doesn't seem like a good idea. If you get the 24-70, on DX you gain more range while if you get the 17-55, you will probably not use the 12-24 as often because of the overlap and you won't have the 55-70mm range, which is nice for portraits, covered.
  15. Mart,
    if I upgrade to FX in say 6 months time​
    Are you, or are you not? If not, stop considering it.
    Anyway. A lot of good advice already. Bottomline, it is largely a personal choice.
    Going through more or less a same cycle some times ago, I checked more how I use a lens, rather than the focal length as such. For me, having a split at 24mm would mean switching lenses quite often. There are times for the 12-24, there were times for the 18-70. Most importantly: I did not often use them on the same day. There are moments for one, and moments for the other. But when I used my 18-70 (that I sold, and wanted to replace), I used it often from18 to 35, or at 70. So 24mm to switch, would mean switch a lot.
    So, in my view, it's not just about covering the focal lenghts, it's about having the right ranges for the right time. The standard holiday/tourist/party lens for me needs to go down to 18mm or something. It's for days I won't be switching lenses all that much.
    I ended up with a 16-85VR, and I got more primes in the range when I need the speed. This combination covers my uses perfectly, and the idea of a 1 kilo walkaround lens was, for me, the final nail in the coffin of the f/2.8 zooms.
  16. in your estimated six months into the FX adventure, you can have a lot of fun with a true DX lens for now. you can always resell that lens for a good price. why buy the 24-70mm just to carry it in your bag because you just switch between the 12-24mm and the 50mm?
    if you find the 50mm resrictive, how about the sigma 30mm or the nikon 35mm for savings?
    this way you didn't lose much money in your plan to go FX.
  17. I have to second Ilkkas advice here. I use the 10-24, 24-70 and 70-200 vrII on my D300 and I have to say that the 24-70 is very nice on the D300. I do not regret buying it instead of the 17-55. The 10-24 is probably my most used lens at present, both in work situations as well as casual, but I find myself using the 24-70 more and more now, as my recent investment in the 70-200 vrII has re-ignited a forgotten interest in longer focal lengths for casual/family/friends photos.

    As soon as the D3s (or the not yet mentioned D4) becomes available in my area I will invest in that and probably a 14-24 or 17-35 to replace my 10-24. but in the meantime I'm quite happy with my current setup.
    I have never felt that I should have chosen the 17-55 instead of the 24-70.
    Just my 2cents. YMMV.
  18. Thanks for the further replies. I took a step back and pondered on why/if/when I would upgrade to FX, as Wouter has highlighted, it's critical in lens selection here.
    My main reason for FX would be to get benefit of full 24mm on a PC-E lens that is also on my list. I am an architect, and plan to increase my architectural shooting - for that the two paths are either view camera (which effectively means going back to film on my budget) or the PC-E 24 + D700. The timescale (and to be honest - the economy and job security issue here) is the grey area. My current plan is to go with the D700 in say 6-12 months time.
    After pondering - it became obvious to me that I would still retain my D90 after getting a D700 - so a DX lens would not become obsolete to my needs - so I would probably run DX & FX in parallel. The 17-55mm Therefore comes back into play to some extent.
    Reviewing my current style - doesn't really help due to the lack of parts of the range - existing shots naturally fall into the 12-24 and 50mm. Use of the 12-24 is fairly evenly spread, although it does peak in the 20-24 range, with another spike at 12mm.
    This brings back memories of my Dad and I in a sweet-shop when I was younger. After about 10 minutes of procrastinating over exactly which gob-stoppers to go with, my dad would grab a handful of any-old sweets, give me a light clip round the ear for wasting his time and drag me out the shop.
  19. Many great points have already been mentioned. My experience: I have used the 17-55 for 2 years and it stays on my D300 70% of the time. I'm staying with DX as I don't consider FX to be an "upgrade". And I prefer the lighter weight and expense! My wife (Kathy) prefers even lighter weight and uses the 16-85 about 90% of the time. I can see the attraction of the 24 PC-E & FX for your business, but for now (as in Wouter's situation) the 16-85 might be the most cost-effective solution. Regards, Jeff
  20. I shoot a lot of 'street'. And when I'm shooting that, at any second I might also be shooting 'fine art', landscapes, portraits (environmental especially), found art, special situations and anything else that moves me as I peregrinate around.
    That means I want to be prepared for anything.
    I've owned a large number of D300s, which, except for lowest light or highest speed shooting at 14 bits, is sufficiently good for the work I do, and a D700 I find to be superb for the lowest light situations.
    Now with the nearly 10 D300s I've gone through, I've also gone through about six 17-55s (I get rid of them before I use 'em to death, so if I sell 'em they're pretty new looking through I treat 'em pretty roughly. But if you buy one from me, they're almost assuredly perfect optically and mechanically, as I don't shoot the mechanical parts to death and have them looked over regularly by Nikon Service so they function perfectly. All of my lenses do if I sell them.
    I've owned the 24-70 and find it a sparkling lens. It seems to be more sparkling in my opinion than the 17-55, but the 17-55 is a really fine lens, and I never had any hesitation putting it on any crop-sensor camera.
    Lately I'm using a 12-24dx a lot, so I'm using a 12-24 and a 70-200 and (like you a bit) missing the focal lengths in between, or using a middle zoom lens such as a 24-120 V.R., where the V.R., is essential to holding an image at night . . . . which can be essential. There are also time I don't want to go out with such an expensive lens as the 24-70 f 2.8 on my camera, it's such a gem, either because of possible theft, or just getting brushed between closing metro doors.
    It's just too nice a lens, and I give my lenses no quarter -- I use 'em and if I don't I won't take 'em with me. They're tools, after all, and their only use is to get 'the image'. If you 'pull punches' to save a lens and don't get that 'image' then it's a foolish trade off.
    It's stupid to take a lens with you which you won't use because you're afraid to use it.
    The lower frontal profile, despite the large size of the 17-55 f 2.8 somehow makes it look impressive and deters people or interlopers from messing with it on the street (people really do shy away from messing with undeniably and observably expensive lenses in general, whereas they might mess with a tiny, obviously less expensive lens, in part because they might anticipate less horrible consequences if caught, I think).
    No matter what the reason, I have always felt comfortable with a 17-55 f 2.8 on a crop sensor camera, whether a D2x, a D2Xs, a D200 or a D300, and never hesitated to go out with one.
    They give a substantial zoom range, quite good image quality, especially if stopped down a tad from wide open, and are quite bright, which also aids in fast focusing, especially with the D300.
    Ken Rockwell, I recall, seemed to want to pass on the 17-55, f 2.8 saying its smaller aperture and decidedly less expensive cousin would be all he would need, but I'll take my advice over Ken's any day, as mine is tried and true and from the trenches, and doesn't support a blog.
    He faulted the faster lens for being oversize and overpriced. Not in my book, though of course, lower prices are always helpful. Prices are coming down, if you know where to look.
    As to obsolescence, I think that since the quality of sensors is improving so rapidly, and they are achieving such good results, at least for wildlife shots, wildlife photographers who want that 'extra reach' will be using crop sensor cameras for wildlife shooting for a long time to come, and since crop sensors continue to be cheaper to produce, and the lenses are already on the shelf, why not just keep producing them?
    I envision a D300 upgrade (in my imagination) with higher sensitivity than the D300s, a huge buffer, continued smaller size and at a price that's affordable, to be produced well into the future. (I have NO inside track on anything, but Nikon would be stupid to throw away its work on developing worthy crop sensor lenses merely to abandon the crop sensor line when there's a real legitimate use for crop sensor cameras.
    It also is possible, given the way electronics develop (remember Grove's law?) that the crop sensors or tomorrow or the year after will exceed today's best D3 series sensor, and that on a smaller body than even the D700 would be a real winner for 'street' and 'wildlife', especially 'birders', I think (by 'birders' I mean those who shoot moving birds, not those who alight on twigs and are shot from tripod-mounted affairs).
    I don't think, then, the crop-sensor lenses reasonably will disappear, while the prices might get a bit more reasonable, especially in the used market as more and more trade up to FX sensor-filling lenses.
    I'd go with the 17-55 f 2.8, buy it at the 'best price', pinching pennies in every way, and then if you decide to go 'solely' to an FX sensor, then just sell it and the cost of 'rental' (its use) will be very low.
    'C's' List which so many use in major cities has proved to be a very good and reliable way to move good lenses, and avoid problems, in my experience . . . . . while the major auction site is decidedly more problematic (people who buy something 'bad' just turn around and 'stick the next guy' with it.
    On C's List, you have a chance to personally inspect all that you might buy or have it gone over by an expert, including a friend. If I sell something there, people can see my portfolio, and they generally know they're not dealing with somebody's who's fly by night.
    I cannot fathom the idea any more of buying something from someone I can't shake hands with and inspect personally the lens or merchandise, unless it's from a dealer, brand new, in box and a reputable dealer at that if far away. Even then, there's always the possibility of getting a 'bad one'. I bought a bad one at a major Los Angeles dealer, and as the money changed hands, put it on my camera for one test shot, found it would not focus at infinity.
    Immediately the dealer switched lenses on me, sent the lens back to Nikon, but if this had been a cross country deal, it might have eaten up 6 to eight weeks of time and huge shipping expenses. Who would have expected such a wonderful lens, a 105 f 2.8 V.R.E.D. nanocoat Nikkor would not focus properly?
    In person it was fixed 'on the spot' and with smiles instead of recriminations.
    Some far away dealers are not reputable as you well know, if you've been on this site for long, and I won't name names.)
    I recommend the 17-55 f 2.8 purchased at its lowest possible price, and when (and if) you decide to go to a 24-70 and an FX camera, and wish no longer to shoot a crop sensor lens, don't worry about the market for crop sensor lenses disappearing.
    Guys like me will still be shooting with them. For instance, with my 70-200 f 2.8 lenses, I still prefer to use them on a crop sensor lens, not only for the increased reach in selecting faces out of the crowd or whole environmental crowd scenes without being too obvious (few will realize how close I am getting), but the bokeh when used on a crop sensor seems to me to be superior to use on a FX sensor (is it subjective, or is there an optical law that backs up my personal estimation?)
    I'd use 'em one at a time, and sell one carefully as I opt for the second.
    If you shoot rapidly changing scenes, the 17-55 is hands down the winner over a combo of a 12-24, a 50 mm and nothing for scenes in between . . . . . you'll lose too many photos -- because of that missing focal length range.
    I'd only shoot with a 12-24 DX and a 50 prime if it were very very low light and I was shooting 'up close' or 'very, very dark', I think. Shooting with three cameras it just 'too much' unless a third party carries the third camera.
    From extensive, personal experience, but still only for what it's worth.
    John (Crosley)
  21. My strategy was to buy a used Nikon 17-55mm f2.8 from e Bay and use it on D300/D80. It is a pro lens and gives top notch results. I often do use it at the 17mm end. I too lust for a 24mm PCE, but in the meantime I use a 28mm f3.8 PC. My thinking is that by buying used pro lenses at the going price, I can likely get my money back out of them later when I decide I need something else. The 17-55mm is a natural "fit" on DX and I've never had a shot from mine rejected because of lens quality.
    Kent in SD
  22. Peter - the limitation I find with the 18-70 is mainly around colour, bokeh and not being quite fast enough​
    That would decide it for me...
    For a while, I owned both the 17-55mm f2.8 and the 24-70mm f2.8. The 17-55 was the normal for the D2X, the 24-70 for the new D3. But the 24-70 would visit the D2X from time to time. I like that combination, it's equivalent to a 35-105mm on FF.
    The 17-55mm f2.8 and I never really got on well. I wasn't fond of its bokeh, which I felt was just on the "harsh" side of neutral, and not what I wanted in a "normal" zoom that I'd expect to be able to give me head and torso portraits at the long end. The 24-70mm outclasses it totally, better bokeh and much better resistance to flare. The 17-55 was always trying to drive me crazy, even in the studio it was hard to place the lights, the hair light kept setting it off...
    I did like the 17-55 for some event shooting, it was "balanced" around normal, 1/1.64 wide, 1.94 tele. Almost 1/2x to 2x. The 24-70, on a DX camera, is more like 2/3 to 3x.
  23. Can I thank you all again for your responses - they've been extremely helpful (especially John who must have taken a big chunk out of his day to write that essay)
    Having said that - I'm, still no closer to to deciding which to go with - but the delay in itself has been useful. I found out yesterday that I'm to get hit with a 30% pay cut. That of course throws a huge spanner in my plans, and a lot of re-prioritising in the immediate future.
    A lens / camera purchase will now have to be put on the back-burner - unless I can justify the expense as an investment into a new (to me) revenue stream. I have had partly implemented plans for getting a photography business off the ground for some time (hence the aim for architectural photography D700/PCE 24mm combo).
    I'm going to have to take some time first to re-assess things.
    Thank you very much for taking the time to provide so much useful information.

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