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 thoughts on “Why you should never pick up an SLR by the lens

  1. 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.

  2. Greg Clawson says:

    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.

  3. 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.

  4. Andy Umbo says:

    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.

    • 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.

      • tbm3fan says:

        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. 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!

    • 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.

        • Andy Umbo says:

          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!

  6. 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.

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