Replacing 17-55mm with primes - 20mm AIS, 35mm f/2, 50mm f/1.4 for landscape?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by john_rodriguez|1, Jun 28, 2010.

  1. I shoot landscape almost exclusively, and currently use a 17-55mm f/2.8 and an 80-200mm f/2.8. I upgraded to the 17-55 from a Nikon 12-24mm/18-70mm combo as I wasn't happy with the 12-24 (it was sharp, but I didn't like the color rendition or drawing) and wanted 2.8 in the wide-short tele range for the rare wedding job and to make manual focusing easier.

    The issue I have with the 17-55mm is the weight. I don't carry my camera around every day anymore because it's too heavy. Optically I have nothing to complain about.

    I'd like to replace the 17-55 with some primes, but I don't want to loose image quality in the process. I'm mostly concerned with performance from f/5.6-f/16. I'm ok with manual focus on the wide angle, but I'd prefer auto for the standard and short tele focal lengths for other work. I'm using a D200 body currently, and don't see myself upgrading to anything else for a few years.

    I'm currently thinking -
    20mm f/2.8 AIS - seems to have the least amount of CA issues while maintaining sharpness
    35mm f/2 - I've read it's better then the f/1.8 when stopped down
    50mm f/1.4
    Would I be giving anything up IQ wise with this trio? Are there better options for my requirements?
  2. As always depends on how much you want to spend!
    The 14-24 has had almost universal rave reviews, most users being amazed at just how good it is. Presumably an excellent landscape lens too.
    Have you looked at the Zeiss primes? The 21mm is apparently incredible, the 28mm f2, 35mm f2, 50 1.4 and 85 1.4 all get great write-ups too.
  3. Well, I don't think the 14-24 is going to appeal, Steve, since he did mention weight being an issue, and that big delicate lens isn't really carry-all-day friendly.

    And, John: How are you using the output? 40-inch prints? 8x10's? On-screen viewing?
  4. You are definitely on the right track. You will not regret the 20/35/50 combo.
    But I myself have chosen a 20/4 ai + 28/2.0 ai + 24-85 af-s combo, and I love it.
    The 20/4 is the best lens I ever had!
    The 28/2.0 is maybe the best lens I ever had :)
    And the 24-85 is a nice, handy zoom excellent at 8.0.
    The bottom line is: The 28mm gives you 42mm instead of 52mm which is sweet!
  5. If you are getting bad color from the 12-24, you should examine your workflow or something. It's capable of great color.
    I would never replace that zoom, but I might augment.
    I'd do an 11-16 Tokina f2.8, a 35mm f1.8 (I've read it is NOT worse than the f2 when stopped down, and the real magic of that lens is between f2 and f4 imho anyway. You should read Thom Hogan's reviews. He strongly recommends the 35mm f1.8 for DX users). Then add a 50mm f1.4 (for me, the f1.8 is just peachy). I actually carry the Tokina 11-16, the 35 f1/8 and the 50mm f1.8 a lot, and am very happy with it, but sometimes I just need the zoom, so I'm glad I still have the 18-70 available.
    That said, at f8 and f11 (f16 is iff-ey), I think most lenses behave the same.
  6. If you are mostly interested in landscapes and you look for a lightweight but good IQ solution, I'd recommend this setup, of course if you are OK with manual focus:
    CV 20mm f3.5 Color Skopar
    CV 40 mm f2 Ultron
    Zeiss 50mm f1.4
    These three lenses are weighting together only 755g, they have a great build quality and as well a great optical quality. Last but not least Zeiss 50/1.4 is the most affordable lens from Zeiss ZF.2 lineup and it seems that is the best 50mm for landscapes (it's not so well performing for close focus subjects but brilliant at distant objects).
  7. If 20mm is the widest you have for DX, it's not wide enough.
  8. Steve - I'm trying to decrease size, the 14-24mm is larger then I want. The only large lens I might be interested in is the 24mm PC-E, but I don't want to spend 2k right now. Zeiss 21mm sounds interesting, I'll check it out.
    Matt - I'm printing 12x18"s currently.
    Peter - How's the CA on the 20/4?
    Mihai - Thanks for the Voigtlander suggestion, hadn't thought of them. Do you have the 20mm? Strengths/weaknesses?
  9. I know the weight issue as I carry a D700 plus a lens or two. I don't think your three primes will come in under the weight of a 16-85 Nikkor or a Tamron 17-50mm. That 50mm f1.4 is heavy for landscape also. There are lighter primes available if weight is the main issue but they don't usually get much lighter than 8 oz each.
  10. Steve - I'm trying to decrease size, the 14-24mm is larger then I want. The only large lens I might be interested in is the 24mm PC-E, but I don't want to spend 2k right now. Zeiss 21mm sounds interesting, I'll check it out.
    Matt - I'm printing 12x18"s currently.
    Peter - How's the CA on the 20/4?
    Mihai - Thanks for the Voigtlander suggestion, hadn't thought of them. Do you have the 20mm? Strengths/weaknesses?
  11. I own the 17-55/2.8 and the three primes you mention. The 17-55 is big and heavy, no doubt, yet its optical performance is very good tho not outstanding. When I want to go light, I generally just carry the 35 f/2 or the 50 f/1.4. The 35 f/2 is fabulous on my D200 bodies -- crisp, great color rendition and the 50 1.4 does a similarly excellent job. Both the 35 and 50 are somewhat better than the 17-55 at their respective focal lengths. The 20 f/2.8 is a disappointing lens, even on a DX body. The edges and corners, even stopped down, are not nearly as sharp as the 17-55 at 20mm and similar f/stops. Recommend you check out the quantitative lens performance reports on
  12. Thanks Frank. Is your 20mm the AIS or AF-D? I love my 17-55 at the wide end, I don't want to give any quality up.
  13. The 20/2.8 AIS and 50/1.4 aren't as good as the 17-55/2.8 in most respects, including distortion, flare and resolution. Furthermore, 17mm is significantly wider than 20mm.
    If you must have a prime lens, the 55/2.8 AIS is the only one I actually carry to the field. It is very sharp, but more important, highly resistant to flare. It can also be used up really close - to 1:2 magnification. I don't have the 35/2, which is reported to be an excellent lens. I do have a 24/2 AIS, which is not extraordinary in any way except speed.
    Nikon wide angle primes are not that good. If you are looking for top notch performance in a manual lens, you should consider a Zeiss 25mm or 28mm Distagon ZF. I presume you already have and use a good tripod.
  14. I am sorry, if the 12-24/4 is not good enough for you, I'm afraid you'd have to move to FX in order to use some good primes for landscape photos. The 17-55/2.8 DX is, as you found out, heavy and expensive. Besides, it is first and foremost an event/wedding lens, designed to perform well in close to medium focus distances. It is only good to fair, even stopped down, when used in landscape shooting focused close to infinity.
    20mm is not very wide in DX, so the only option is FX, where a whole world of good quality lightweight primes await you.
  15. John
    My current solution to the same problem - but on FX - is the 20/2.8 AIS plus the 50/1.8 AF D. The latter is quite incredibly light and sharp (used to have it on a D200 too) and pairs well with the 20. The 20 is so nice to use for landscapes, I've no hesitation in leaving the 17-35 at home when I want to go light. Together they weight just over 400 g. Works for me. (At the long end, my lightweight is the 75-150 E, cheap and sharp and only 520 g). You'd be covered for a possible eventual step to FX with careful choice now.
  16. John,
    Voigtlander 20mm is probably the most compact lens for landscape. Its build quality is very pleasing and optically IMHO is better (for landscape use only) than any Nikon prime at 20mm. It is vignetting wide open but at f5.6 and especially at f8 shows no problems and it's very resistant at flare and ghosting. At f8 is very sharp across the frame when using on D700, at least as sharp as I need to be. Distortions are not exaggerated and normally for this focal. I have all three CVs in F mount and I'm very pleased with them. You can see various pictures from other owners here.
  17. I use a 20mm Sigma which is very good but a bit bulky compared to Nikon kit. I also use a 35mm and 50mm Nikon. Both are excellent optically and are very light. In my opinion, primes are far better quality compared to zooms which I have more or less stopped using.
    I also use a 24mm Nikkor PC lens which I regard as the best lens I have but it is manual focus and heavy. However, the quality is terriffic. I suspect that the 24mm non PC might be very good also but I have not used one.
  18. John,
    As great as most of the Zeiss lenses are my concern is that you would be dropping a lot of cash on them just to use them on a DX camera. It's like buying a Porsche just to drive to the local shops - it looks cool but you are not getting your money's worth in terms of performance. If upgrading to FX is still years away I think you would be ill-advised to make such an investment now unless you have a film camera where you can take advantage of that performance right away.
    I would stick to the 17-55mm until you are ready for the FX/ZF Big Bang.
    Good luck,
  19. John, I have to agree with James to a point. A D200 with a 17-55mm lens is going to do a good job at landscape. I understand that you don't want the weight burden, but the IMHO, the D200 with that lens isn't that heavy. If you consider that most serious landscape photogs are shooting with medium format cameras like an RB67 at a minimum, and more often than not with a LF field camera, then it may be good preparation for you if you want to go that way in the future. Having said that, if the weight is stopping you from taking images, then upgrade you must. I don't see any point in paying good money for an AF lens if you are exclusively shooting landscapes. AF lenses, are by their very nature, less robust than MF lenses, and you would be paying for a big feature of the lens that you wouldn't use. I think the CZ lenses are a good option, and when you consider that they are long term purchase that can work all future and all past Nikon SLR's, the price isn't so hard to swallow.
  20. Saw the price on the Zeiss; it looks nice, but if I spent that much I'd pony up the extra for the 24mm PC-E and get something else for everyday shooting. Fatherhood has arrived and I'm trying to not spend any money other then what I sell the 17-55 for.
    About the 17-55mm weight, my issue is with carrying it around everday, not necessarily when I'm out hiking with the intention of shooting. Also, being able to drop a 50mm or 20mm into a pocket and hike with a light tripod sometimes sounds great.
    From the posts here it sounds like the 20mm AIS is getting mixed reviews - some like it some don't, it could be sample variation. For now I may keep the 17-55mm and buy a 20mm AIS and possibly the CV to see if either of them work for me. If they do I'll sell the 17-55 and buy the rest, otherwise I'll return the 20s and grab a 28/35 for walking around for now. I won't have the range, but at least I'll be carrying my camera everyday again.
    Thanks for the responses everyone.
  21. John --
    The 20 f/2.8, 35 f/2.0 and 50 f/1.4 that I mention are all AF-D lenses. I also own a 24 f/2.8 AIS lens that I have used on the D200. Its major issue is very noticeable chromatic aberration. I would rate both the 20 f/2.8 AF-D and 24 f/2.8 AIS as inferior to the 17-55 f/2.8 G DX lens. I do, however, rate the 35 f/2.8 AF-D and 50 f/1.4 AF-D as somewhat superior to the 17-55 mm lens. More modern lens design, with the use of aspherical elements, has improved wide angle lenses.
    Have you considered Nikon's 16-85 mm zoom? All reports are that it is a good walk-around lens (good every day lens) while admittedly not being outstanding at any one thing yet weighs about 1/3 less than the 17-55 and is less bulky.
    An earlier comment suggested no advantage to the Zeiss lenses on a DX body. My reading of the quantitative data on suggests that there is a distinct performance improvement over similar focal length Nikon lenses, even on a DX body. The advantages do show up in edge and corner sharpness and especially on wider angle lenses at wider apertures (which may or may not matter depending on your style of shooting). Given the high pricing that Nikon has placed on its newer lenses (both zoom and fixed focal length), the Zeiss lenses start to look quite attractive for those who want to do their own focusing!
    Again, as you consider the trade-offs, I do much recommend a careful look at where you will find quantitative test data for a wide variety of lenses on both FX and DX bodies.
  22. I would keep 17-55mm and 80-200- great event lenses. For landscapes (on a budget and lightweight) I would get 28mm AI or AIS nikkor - f2 if you have founds or 3.5 which can be had for 50 bucks from *bay (If you need to go wider than 28mm - shoot two or more images and stitch them together in PS). Add 50mm 1.8 AIS and 105mm 2.5 AI or AIS and you have excellent quality lenses for not much money. In my opinion events and landscapes are two different monkeys and require different lens selections.
  23. "I've read it is NOT worse" - I did read that somewhere, and read the opposite as well.
    Question is what do you believe, or what you want to believe, since there are many aspects of quality, and there may not be a simple answer.
  24. Frank,
    Easy. I trust Bjorn and Thom Hogan's reviews first. Everybody elses come second. Why? Because they know what they are talking about AND don't mindlessly parrot MTF numbers, but rather report on the lens in real-world use. They have not burned me once.
  25. Shooting at f/8.... the 16-85VR..... At that aperture, all lenses are very capable, so in fact, this is a serious consideration. If you want to save weight and money: 18-55VR will also not disappoint at f/8...
    I own the 35 f/2, and from f/4 to f/8 that lens is absolutely a fine performer. I do not doubt the 35 f/1.8 will also perform great (with the advantage of being better wide open - the f/2 isn't great wide open). The best options both lack AF (Zeiss or 35 f/1.4). If that is no issue, nor the elevated prices, I would look into those. Else, the 35 f/1.8 because it is better wide open (tests are pretty clear on that point).
    For me, on DX, the 24mm also works great. I have an Ai, but I believe optically Nikon did not change anything since. It's not supersharp at the edges, but otherwise I'm very pleased with it. I am not bothered by the CA that is often reported for this lens since D300 (and all Nikons since) plus Nikon software take pretty good care of that. I would miss it in between a 20mm and 35mm. It's something I would certainly first check with the 17-55, which FLs matter to you. I do not have a 20mm, so won't comment on those.
    For the 50mm, if wide-open performance does not matter, the 50 f/1.8 might be a better choice.
  26. Probably the best short primes for Nikon mount are the 21/2.8 ZF, 24/1.4G AF-S Nikkor and the 28/2 ZF; 35/2 ZF also excellent; Nikon 50/1.4G AF-S nice lens for available light but for landscape I think the 50/1.8D or 60/2.8G AF-S are probably preferable. 85/1.8D inexpensive and extremely sharp.
  27. well, the 20/4.0 is NOT better than the 20/2.8, but it is smaller and sweeter :) only 52mm in lens diameter ... Already at 5,6 it rocks ...
    If you want a brand new one, you could get a Voigtlander 20/3.5 SL, looks a lot like it ...
  28. For years I shot with primes - 20/4, 28/2.8, 55/2.8, 105/2.5 and 200/4 - all AIS. I particularly liked the small sizes and 52mm filter thread they all took.
    I now shoot DX (D90) and use 10-24, 16-85 and 70-300 zooms. Smaller size and weight, greater flexibility and excellent IQ at F8-F16, where I almost always shoot landscapes. Additionally, I get fast AF and VR. One of the reasons I don't want to shoot FX is the dramatic increase in lens size and cost or a return to primes (still own them all).
  29. For landscapes at F8 you might as well just get an 18-55. You could trade your D200 for a D5000 and get better image quality as well as lighter weight and size.

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