Even though my Nikon Df came with a lovely special-edition 50mm f/1.8 lens, I usually use my 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6 AF-D Nikkor lens because it’s so darned versatile. Sometimes I want a deeper zoom, so I mount my 70-300mm f/4-5.6 AF-G Nikkor. But when I’m on a road trip or traveling, I prefer to bring just one lens. Could I find a zoom lens that does it all?
I found a few options, a few from Nikon and a few from Tamron and other manufacturers. The lens that appealed to me most was the 28-200mm f/3.5-54.6 AF-G Nikkor. It is relatively inexpensive used but offers a pretty good zoom range and promises good image quality.
I bought mine used from UsedPhotoPro. It’s sort of a funny story — I was searching eBay for one, and saw one at a price I was willing to pay. The listing showed a good-condition lens, but noted that there was a ding in the front element.
Then I noticed that the eBay seller was Roberts Camera, which is UsedPhotoPro’s alter ego. I happened to be in my Downtown office just a mile or so away from Roberts, so I walked over there and asked to see it. The mark on the front element is barely perceptible, so I bought it. Because I saved them eBay fees and shipping costs, they gave me a discount! Woot!
This lens is surprisingly compact. I own manual-focus 35-70mm zooms that are longer than this. It’s also light, but that’s because it’s made with a lot of plastic. Even the mount is plastic, a sure sign that Nikon built this lens for consumer use.
Any zoom lens is a bundle of compromises that lead to limitations. If you want the sharpest images with the least distortion and the fewest aberrations, bring a bag full of primes. The limitations in my 28-80 zoom are fairly minor and easy to live with. Would that be true with this 28-200?
One critical compromise with zoom lenses is distortion. Reviews say that this lens suffers from it horribly. Fortunately, my Df corrects it well enough in camera. I can use this lens on my Nikon N90s 35mm SLR, but it can’t correct for distortion at all and would leave me with a lot of post-processing to get usable images.
There’s only one way to find out if I can live with this lens’s limitations: take it on an outing. We had plans with friends to spend a weekend in southern Indiana, which was a perfect proving ground. We stayed in French Lick, a resort town. Here are a smattering of images I made with this lens. First, a few images where I zoomed to the max.
These images are fine at snapshot sizes. But when you look at max-zoom images at full resolution, you see softness and shake. This lens doesn’t have image stabilization, so you’ll get best results when you brace yourself or use a tripod.
Also, the Df defaults to choosing apertures and shutter speeds that lead to shallower depth of field for good separation of subject from background. Frequently when I’m shooting a landscape or other scene where I want everything to be in focus, the Df focuses on something in the foreground, as in the image above. At full size, you can see that the background details are slightly out of focus. Either I need to find a setting that gives me narrower apertures in program mode, or shoot in aperture-priority mode so I can select the aperture.
You can see this best in this image of my wife. She was a good distance away from me, so I zoomed to 200mm. The Df focused on her and set aperture and shutter speed so that everything behind her was out of focus, which was appropriate in this case. But even at snapshot size you can see that she’s not perfectly crisp in the image.
Sharpness improves and shake reduces as you zoom out. In the image above, the lens was at 45mm. It’s still not perfectly sharp at full size, but it’s not that different from the results I get from my 28-80mm zoom, a lens I know well.
The wider the angle, the better the sharpness. I made the image above at minimum zoom, 28mm.
I made the image above at 85mm and it turned out okay. The first rocking chair, especially the rocker at the bottom, is a little out of focus. But otherwise there’s pretty good sharpness here.
Finally, even at full zoom as above, this lens yields lovely bokeh.
I’ve focused on sharpness and shake here because I’m not fully satisfied with what I see. However, the lens is light and easy to handle and renders the light beautifully. It focuses fast enough for me, but some reviews pan it for focusing too slowly. If you’re shooting auto racing I can see how that would be a problem.
I need to keep using the Df with this lens to refine my technique with it, to remove my own foibles as much as possible from the results I get. As I said earlier, I also need to set the Df for greater depth of field in the documentary work I like to do. But my suspicion is that after I do all of that, I’m still going to get softness from this lens, especially at deep zoom levels. Given that the vast majority of ways I display my work yields sizes where this softness doesn’t matter, I may choose to live with it. But when I know I need deep crops or large display sizes, I’ll probably be better off with one of my primes.
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