Monday, January 14, 2008

The Best Deal on a Pro Zoom Lens

I am amazed by the top-of-the-line zoom lenses that Nikon offers. I call them the "four-figure" lenses because of their plus $1000 price tags. Wonderful lenses to be sure, but the price tag puts them out of my reach. These lenses also tend to be big and heavy, and I'm not sure I want to lug a couple around for an entire wedding.

But if you look on eBay (or other sources of used lenses) you can find a pro-grade, auto-focus Nikon zoom lens for between $200 and $300 dollars: the Nikkor 35-70 f2.8 AF zoom.

This lens was originally designed as a "framing zoom" for full-frame (FX) cameras, being centered around th 50mm "normal" lens mark. An interesting thing happens when you use this on a DX-format camera: it becomes the equivalent of a 52-105 zoom, which makes it an ideal portrait zoom. I use this lens for engagement sessions and portrait sessions and it is wonderful.

Why is this lens so cheap on eBay? Well, there are several factors at work here. First off, the lens was not that expensive to start with. I dug through some old photo magazines, and 18 months ago it was selling for $650 new. Secondly, it isn't the latest Nikon mid-range pro zoom, having been replaced by the 28-70 f2.8 AFS lens and now the new 24-70 f2.8. Third, there seem to be a goodly number of them available, since a lot of 35-70 owners upgraded to one of the the newer lenses and decided to put the old one up for sale. Lastly, since it is an older design, the lens has features many consider undesirable: push-pull zoom (actually reverse push-pull), no AF-S (leading to slower autofocus), and a rotating front element.

What you do get is an incredibly sharp lens that is built like a tank. Professional build quality and professional image quality. But at the same time, this is a lens that is smaller and lighter than current pro zooms.

I have one and I love it on one of my D70. I paid $200 for it on eBay. For portrait work, or low-light photos, it is amazing. If you shoot with Nikon gear, you owe it to yourself to try out this lens. If you're patient you can get a good deal on eBay. If you later decide you don't like the lens, or upgrade to a newer model, you can always sell the lens for what you paid for it (but I don't think you'll want to...)

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