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Cameras, Lenses and Accessories: Discuss Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens...This Lens Test is comparing Optical Qualities of lenses from different price ranges. How does a budget prime compare to ...
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Old 11-06-2006, 14:35   #1 (permalink)
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Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

This Lens Test is comparing Optical Qualities of lenses from different price ranges. How does a budget prime compare to a Pro Zoom Lens. Does a Wide Angle -> Telephoto Zoom compromise the final Photo Quality ?

The lenses for test are :-

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8 D UK Street Price £130
Nikon AF-S 18-200mm DX VR 3.5-5.6G IF-ED UK Street Price £550
Nikon AF-S 17-55mm DX f/2.8 G UK Street Price £970

Note this is not a full blown test, but concentrates on 2 example shots for each lens, taking a cropped area from each for comparison. Test such as edge quality etc have not been performed, so should be taken into account.

Read on......
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Old 11-06-2006, 14:39   #2 (permalink)
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Test 1

All lenses shot at 50mm f/5, hand held. Same focus point used in each shot. VR was switched off for 18-200 lens
Full shot shown below, with red box indicating the final 100% crop used for comparison



Summary comparison below

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Old 11-06-2006, 14:45   #3 (permalink)
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Test 2

All lenses shot at 50mm f/5, hand held. Same focus point used in each shot. VR was switched off for 18-200 lens
Full shot shown below, with red box indicating the final 100% crop used for comparison




Summary Comaparison shot below :-

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Old 11-06-2006, 15:53   #4 (permalink)
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Results & Conclusion

Results

Looking purely at final image quality ...

1st : Nikkor 50mm
2nd : Nikkor 17-55mm
3rd : Nikkor 18-200mm


Conclusion

We've heard time & time again that any kind of zoom is a compromise over a prime lens. Well, the above tests prove this, with the "nifty fifty" just pipping the 17-55mm , which costs 8 times more . Taking into account you can get the 50mm for £70 incl P&P from Hong Kong, it's an absolute bargain

Full credit has to go to the 17-55mm for getting that close to a prime lens, whilst still having the advantage of the zoom focal range.

This was a harsh test for 18-200. From a zoom perspective it was competing with the 17-55 at nearly double the price. At the end of the day though, there is a price to pay for such a wide focal range & that is shown in the comparisons above. Remember though these examples have been showing you down to actual pixal level the sharpness of the lens. In normal viewing mode the differences in quality are not so savage.

Note the above tests have shown just part of the features you should compare before choosing a lens. It is always best to try a lens for real before handing over your hard earned cash.

Hope this test was of interest for our members.
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Old 11-06-2006, 16:56   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

Very good example, cheers
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Old 11-06-2006, 16:59   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

Thanks for taking the time Dave. I've always wondered what the difference would be & I don't think I've seen anyone perform this kind of test before.

That 50mm does look a bargain !!!
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Old 11-06-2006, 17:31   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

Itís a great review and the conclusion does back up the general agreement that a prime lens will always be sharper than a zoom, I guess we have to decide if the sacrifice is worth the versatility that the zoom will give.

One thing I would like to ask is about your shutter speeds, If these were all shot of a tripod with mirror lock up I guess it wouldn't matter so much, but you say shot 'hand held' and that could introduce an amount of blur depending on the shutter speed.

On this occasion it appears the results have been unaffected though.
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Old 11-06-2006, 19:02   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

No problems with the shutter speeds, I made sure I had them fast enough so blurring was not in the equation.
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Old 11-06-2006, 20:04   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

a good test dave thanks
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Old 11-06-2006, 20:18   #10 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

Third book along is upside down Dave

Good test and that 17-55mm comes pretty close to the 50mm....certainly see a difference between the 17-55mm and the 18-200mm but as you say the 17-55mm is twice the cost.

Now get out and use that 17-55mm but don't show me any pictures
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Old 14-06-2006, 12:55   #11 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

Good test Dave - now do it again for Canon lenses Before I got to your conclusion it was clear to me that the 50mm had it. Thanks for sharing.

regards
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Old 14-06-2006, 15:56   #12 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

LOL. Whats the equivalent Canon Lens to the Nikon 17-55 Pro lens ?
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Old 14-06-2006, 18:47   #13 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

Canon 17-40 L ? Only 15mm difference
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Old 14-06-2006, 19:09   #14 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

Shame as you can't compare like for like with your 50mm could you Steve ?. Would be interesting to see how close that lens gets.
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Old 14-06-2006, 19:47   #15 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

No unfortunately I can't.

My lenses where carefully chosen so that their ranges wouldn't overlap too much, if at all.
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Old 14-06-2006, 19:51   #16 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

I've just bought the 16-35 2.8 and doing some testing at the moment, not quite the equiv but approx the same price range.

Seems soft in the corners @ 2.8.........but I thought it would be (just hoped it wouldn't be)
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Old 14-06-2006, 20:15   #17 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

Did you go for that due to 2.8 over the F4 of the 17-40 or was it due to some other reason?
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Old 14-06-2006, 20:21   #18 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve
Did you go for that due to 2.8 over the F4 of the 17-40 or was it due to some other reason?
I have had and sold the 17-40L sometime ago and wasn't all that happy with it.

The 2.8 will come in handy for me plus the build but it was a bit painful to folk out twice the price over the 17-40L.

I have just tested my 24-70 at 2.8 and got roughly the same softness in the corners.
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Old 14-06-2006, 20:34   #19 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

Ohhh, I am shocked if I am being honest at your comments about the 17-40 You can't just say that you where not happy with it and leave it at that More info please

I can't argue with the change for the 2.8 but as you say, twice the price for one stop faster is very hard to swallow.

The 24-70L is a nice lens as well, used that myself for almost 18months doing wedding photography and it always gave great results. Like your copy it was a little soft at the corners but not really noticeable and off course in wedding photography it is even easier to get away with it Value for money wise I would find lens more acceptable than the cost of the 16-35 if I had to pay for them out of my own pocket.
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Old 14-06-2006, 20:43   #20 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

I felt with the 17-40 I had too many shots that looked off......no consistency somehow.

Was tempted to buy it again but I know I would have been left wondering about the 16-35.

You know how it is
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Old 14-06-2006, 21:23   #21 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

Thats a shame, how are you finding the 16-35 for consistency, better I hope after parting with all that money?
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Old 14-06-2006, 21:29   #22 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve
Thats a shame, how are you finding the 16-35 for consistency, better I hope after parting with all that money?
Only picked it up this evening Steve so plan to get out this weekend and see how it performs.
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Old 13-07-2006, 09:46   #23 (permalink)
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Re: Results & Conclusion

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave
Results Remember though these examples have been showing you down to actual pixal level the sharpness of the lens. In normal viewing mode the differences in quality are not so savage.
I'd partially agree with you, and I'll explain why:

The resolving ability (sharpness) of a given lens at a particular F-stop value can be of the utmost importance, even at the pixel level, since it determines how much post-processing of a shot you need to do.

I routinely shoot with the intention of printing at large sizes, the most common being 30 x 20". Printing at that size from D2X that equates to 143 dpi, which is pretty sharp, since the average human eye can resolve detail up to 150 dpi.

If the lens I use to take the shot has good optical resolving power, then I don't really need to go to the trouble of sharpening the file in PS for printing. If it's sharp enough at 100% magnification on screen, then it's good enough for output.

Now some folks might say that I could just use cheap kit lenses and then do all my sharpening in Photoshop... but there's a problem with this.

Sharpening algorithms enhance the contrast between two adjacent pixels by examining their luminosity values and then adjusting them up or down, based on the algorithms determination that those particular pixels should be altered.

This can have nasty side-effects sometimes which I'm sure some of you have noticed - things like edge 'halos' around finely defined items such as hair, leaves and so on. If you took the 18-200mm shot of the radio grillework from Dave's test and tried to sharpen it in post-processing, you'd run the risk of introducing such unwanted artefacts.

Generally this wouldn't be a problem if your intent is to print the shot at standard sizes but, as soon as you get into the realm of big prints, it quickly becomes visible!

Now, an optically sharp lens simply records the contrast from the scene presented to it, and primes fare better at this since the light path and elements are designed to resolve detail at that focal length very well.

Compare this with a zoom lens which has to cover a variety of focal lengths at various focusing distances and you start to see where the trouble occurs. The light path will have a sweet spot of sharpness for a given aperture / focal length / focal distance combination on a zoom lens but as soon as you change any of those, you alter the light path an thus the image sharpness is affected.

It also goes without saying that a lens with fewer elements will produce a sharper image with less optical artefacts. The less glass-to-air transitions in a lens, the greater the integrity of the lightpath.

The 18-200mm VR lens in the test has 16 elements in 12 groups, including 3 aspherical elements to help out at the wide-angle end of things. Quite a few glass-to-air transitions there, and some fairly exotic elements are needed to cope with the great variety of focal lengths.

The 17-55mm had 14 elements in 10 groups, three of which are ED coated (hence the price) but already we can see why this lens resolves more.

Lastly, the 50mm f/1.8 prime has 6 elements in 5 groups... very few glass-to-air transitions but also a very short distance in which they can occur. Small wonder it's the sharpest lens tested

In closing, I'd say that your lens choices should be made with all due consideration to what sizes you like to print your images at, and how much time you want to spend post-processing shots to acheive optimal results.

Also don't forget that - unlike your current camera body - your lenses will probably be in your collection for years to come. What might give acceptable performance on todays 4 and 6MP dSLR's might not give you the results you want when mounted on a 12, 16 or 20MP body... therefore I think that lenses should be seen as an investment rather than a purchase!
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Old 13-07-2006, 13:30   #24 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

Excellent post VP. I now feel I understand why there is a difference, rather than just knowing there is one
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Old 13-07-2006, 15:07   #25 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

Heh, Dave - the truth of the matter is that I needed logic like this to convince myself to part with £1700 in order to pick up a brand new Nikon 28mm f/1.4 lens on Sunday.

Never mind the fact that the lens has been discontinued and even Grays can't get them anymore, it was still the singularly most expensive lens I've purchased to date, costing £500 more than I paid for my trusty 70-200VR last year

It'll be a long time before I shell out for another lens, since the next one on my radar is the 200-400mm f/4 VR - but that one is strictly going to be used for wildlife shots, which I'm not paid to shoot... though I can think of a few occasions in which that sort of reach would keep me out of trouble during press shoots
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Old 13-07-2006, 16:28   #26 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

That's some serious dosh to spend on a prime . I'm assuming you had the same dilemma over which focal length to choose ? Can I ask what made you choose 28mm ?
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Old 13-07-2006, 21:08   #27 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

If you want the flexibility of an f/1.4 lens in a Nikon F-mount, then the 28mm is the widest that they used to produce... it was discontinued about two months ago.

Oddly enough, it was never really in demand until Nikon stopped making it. At a list price of £1750, it was one of Nikon's most expensive prime lenses with the exception of their telephoto offerings from 300mm upwards.

I never thought I'd find this lens at all since they ceased production of them and it happened quite by accident; I was in Jessops in Glasgow getting a lens hood for my 50mm f/1.4 and, with that sorted out, the clerk asked "anything else I can get you?"

I jokingly said I'd take the 28 f/1.4, or a jackpot-winning lottery ticket - since there was about an equal chance of getting either! The assistant laughed but checked his computer anyway and - whaddya know - he found one as 'in stock' at their Edinburgh store.

A quick phone call later to establish that it wasn't phantom stock or a system error and yes, the Edinburgh store manager confirmed he had it on a shelf and "would you like me to reserve it for you"

One week later, my bank balance is £1700 lighter. To add insult to injury, the dang thing didn't come with a lens hood (never has), so I had to order one of those from Grays of Westminster for another £67!

That said, I don't regret it one little bit. This will be a killer lens for wedding and portrait work, and for all those low light concert shoots that I do it will pay it's worth in short order.

For what it's worth, Matthew (manager) at Jessops in Edinburgh told me he could get another one - brand new in box - if I knew anyone that was after one
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Old 14-07-2006, 09:00   #28 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

Well that was meant to be I told the missus a £1000 lens was my limit, so I think I'll try & stick to that to keep parts of my anatomy intact
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Old 18-10-2006, 19:12   #29 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

Strewth, that is huge money for a 28mm lens but if you are going to get the paid benefits, it is obviously worth it. For me, I can't see me ever paying that sort of money. Having said that, I have got some seriously expensive lenses but I have never paid list price or even close.

I have one lens that I got for an absolute steal though so I shall tell you, just cos I like this story

I was looking for a 1.4x TC for my 20D and wanted the genuine Canon one, list price £286, street price around the £229 mark. I found a listing with no photos on and very little details but it was for a 1.4x TC AND a 2x TC, both in as new condition. However, what shocked me was there was also included a Canon EF 300mm f 4 IS L series lens, list price £1150 and street price around the £900 mark.

I was cautious but I wrote and asked if I could go up to his home in London and pay cash for it. He said that was fine so i felt safe bidding. Other people clearly didn't! I ended up winning the auction and paid £511 for the lot!

All three items have not got a single mark on them, they really are like new. If we say the two tele-convertors were crazily cheap at £105.50 each, that means I paid exactly £300 for an as new 300mm prime telephoto image stabilised, L series lens!

And no, it is NOT going to be re-listed any time soon! I could have done as I would have listed all three items separately and would have certainly got around £300 pur profit but hey, when am i likely to find another 300mm prime lens like that for £300? Not a chance so I have added all three to my collection and won't be letting them go. Sometimes you just get lucky, this time it was me... not usually the case so I am not feeling guilty at all :o)

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Rob
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Old 18-10-2006, 19:36   #30 (permalink)
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Re: Budget prime vs Premium Zoom vs Pro Zoom lens

Nice story, Rob. Did the guy know what he was doing? I mean had he bought the stuff himself, or was he just fencing, oh, sorry, I mean disposing of it from an inheritence or on someone's behalf?
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