Why you should never pick up an SLR by the lens

In 2012 a friend gave me his Nikon N65, the first auto-everything SLR I ever owned. I was suspicious of all of that automation at the time (read my review here), but after awhile I came to like it and have owned and enjoyed a number of similar cameras.

Nikon N65

The N65 came with a couple of lenses, including a 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor. Nikon sold those by the bajillion, often mated to an SLR body in a kit.

To my surprise, I came to really like that 28-80 and I used it a lot on the one Nikon AF body I kept, the N90s (review here). It also worked fabulously on the Nikon Df DSLR I bought this year! Here’s a sample photo from that combo:

Lexington Cemetery

This lens is plenty sharp, albeit with some barrel distortion at the wide end. Every now and then I catch a little light vignetting. But Photoshop can correct all of that.

This lens’s one flaw is its build quality. Its body and mount are plastic; the lens weighs next to nothing. Not long ago I did something stupid: I picked up a camera this lens was mounted to by the lens itself. The focus ring twisted a little, something inside went crack, and the lens would no longer focus. It had seized up hard.

Fortunately, replacements are inexpensive on the used market. If you trust the wild west of eBay, you can get them for 20 bucks, sometimes with an SLR body attached!

I wanted one with a warranty in case something was wrong, so I shopped UsedPhotoPro. There I found the similar 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6D AF Nikkor lens, for just 30 bucks shipped. D lenses all have aperture rings, where G lenses do not. That means I can use this lens on a wider range of Nikon bodies! The D version seems to be a little better built than the G version, too.

But my lesson is learned: no more picking up a camera by its lens!


19 responses to “Why you should never pick up an SLR by the lens”

  1. marcusterrypeddle Avatar

    Thankfully a cheap lesson. I had the G version of this lens that worked fine and delivered good results. I left it on an F80 that I gave away to a student who was interested in learning film photography. I kind of wish I had a copy now as a light zoom for walkabouts.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s a surprisingly good lens. It’s great that they are available for so little money used today.

  2. Greg Clawson Avatar
    Greg Clawson

    Jim, which camera did you have it mounted on? If it was the N90S, it is a heavy little beast.
    I have also done this, I will put your advice to good use, thanks.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I had it on the Df. That body isn’t nearly as heavy as the N90s so I was a little surprised when the lens broke.

  3. J P Avatar

    Thanks for reminding us of the most effective teacher any of us has ever had: experience. At least the lesson was not as costly as some of them are.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Some of my lenses would cost several hundred dollars to replace, so I did learn this lesson inexpensively.

  4. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    I think the big issue here is the ridiculousness of having a plastic lens mount on a quality lens. The difference between a plastic lens mount and a metal one in volume wouldn’t have been over ten dollars a unit, and an embarrassment for a company like Nikon.

    One of my first “pro” level Nikon digitals came with an 18-105mm “kit” lens, which usually I would have not used very much, but I was in awe of the quality level of the image for the price. Unfortunately the flex of the lens mount caused error readings on the camera body right out of the box. Sent it in a few times to Nikon, but they couldn’t really do anything. Asked if they could put a metal mount on from another lens? Nope. Ended up giving the camera and lens away to a needy photographer friend who lost his rig when he lost his on-staff job, and needed a unit to pick up some freelance. I ended up going M4/3rd’s.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Nikon doesn’t seem to cut corners on lens design, but they did cut corners on the lens body build. This lens weighs next to nothing. It was clearly built to a price. I’ll bet most people who bought a Nikon SLR with this lens in the kit mounted it and then never ever removed it.

      1. tbm3fan Avatar

        It is really annoying when a quality product is de-contented to save $10-20 especially for a brand associated with quality like Nikon. I personally despise plastic mounts and would never bother to acquire one intentionally. Only exception is such as today when I got a Canon EOS 650 which had a Canon zoom attached. I wanted the body and since the zoom has a plastic mount it now goes into the box where lenses go to become orphans

  5. nigelkell Avatar

    The price you pay for lightweight plastic bulid……. and a finite design lifetime.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Here’s hoping that the 28-80 D lens I replaced it with lasts longer — especially when I never pick up a camera by the lens again.

  6. Kurt Ingham Avatar
    Kurt Ingham

    or dogs by the ears

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s even worse!

  7. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    Oh a good lesson….I am guilty of picking cameras up that way, a good reason not to! Most of my lenses are vintage, heavy and made of metal, but the kit lenses on my Canon DSLR are all plastic!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      On Facebook someone pointed out that you should always pick up an SLR by the lens when it’s a long, heavy lens! I guess I never thought of that, because I tend to shoot primes and short zooms.

      1. Steve Mitchell Avatar

        now you mention it I may have seen that somewhere too….I guess the lesson is that light plastic construction may not be durable!

        1. Andy Umbo Avatar
          Andy Umbo

          I think the old rule of thumb is better to replace the lens mount rather than the camera lens mount, but again, before the modern poly-carbonate era, I never had to replace either! I’m looking at a refurbished Canon FT on my desk right now with a breech-lock 50mm that could easily be used for a weapon, and probably still work! Of course…weighs a ton!

  8. fishyfisharcade Avatar

    I have one of those 28-80mm lenses. The build quality isn’t the best – I wouldn’t want to bump it into anything – but the glass is nice. A little distortion on the wide end, but nothing terrible.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Exactly. It’s why I replaced mine when it broke. It’s a useful lens.

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