I shot with a new "old" lens yesterday and it was good.

Dog and friend at the Graffiti Wall. D610+Cheapo lens

Model at the Graffiti Wall. 70-210mm at 210mm, f5.6

Editorial Note: I wrote a post yesterday about a lens and an experience at the Austin Graffiti Wall. It was too negative and angry. I decided that's not a direction I wanted to go in this year so I took the post down. This is what the original post should have been...

It's not hard to be a lens-aholic when shooting with the Nikon system, after all, they haven't changed the lens mount in just about forever and any Nikon lens made from about 1977 onward will mount and work (some with limitations) on even the newest Nikon bodies. When I look at lenses for that system (one of two systems that I am currently using for work and play...) I find myself drawn to older classics rather than the newest formulations and models. I've shot, on and off, with Nikon equipment since the late 1980's and I have a lot of experience with the lenses (and the bodies) through the ages. I've always loved the look and feel of the manual focus lenses and now I even like the prices. 

Recently, I borrowed the newest 70-200mm VR type 2 to compare with an older AF 80-200mm f2.8 D lens that I recently bought for a song. I wanted to make sure I wasn't deluding myself and compromising the overall system performance by choosing an older lens. I shouldn't have worried as the older lens is as sharp and low maintenance as I remember it. What am I giving up by using an older lens? Mostly just the VR but in the ways that I plan to use the lens it's not much of an issue. I plan to use the fast zoom lens mostly for theatrical performance documentation sitting on the front of a Nikon 610. I've tested it onsite and it works exactly as I wanted. 

But there is one issue I have with the 80-200mm f2.8 and that is the bulk and the weight of the unit. Don't get me wrong, for the applications I have in mind it's not an issue and there's really now way around a certain size and heft if you want optical performance and speed on a full frame camera. It's a trade off. But in the back of my mind I started thinking about the times when I might want to tote around a nice focal length range like the one on the 80-200mm during one of my "spells" when I also want to use a big Nikon camera. So I started looking for a cheap, smaller, lighter lens with the same basic focal range to use when tooling around outdoors, without my team of equipment hauling Sherpas. 

The search led me to a number of choices but the one that seemed to have the most promise, when reading other people's reviews, was the D version of the Nikon 70-210mm f4-5.6, push-pull zoom lens from the 1990's. It focuses pretty quickly; on par with the consumer AFS lenses. It''s noisier when focusing but not too bad. It's less than half the size and weight of the 2.8 lenses but it's mostly built with metal and feels very solid. I bought one for right around $100. I generally test lenses just as soon as I buy them but last week we had nasty weather. It was cold, gray, rainy and windy for four days in a row and I just didn't have the motivation to go out and shoot with much of anything.

The weather broke yesterday (resulting in a glorious and very well attended morning swim practice) and in the late afternoon I finished up all my chores and decided to go out for a bit of shooting. I put the lens on the D610 and headed for the Graffiti Wall. It was absolutely packed with people, including a mass fashion photo workshop. I stayed for a while and snapped some fun shots which I then brought back to the office to look over. The lens is fairly sharp wide open and the appearance of sharpness improves with a bit of post processing. When sharpening is done right the lens delivers fine detail along with a contrast that seems to be a balance between the lower levels of the older, manual Nikon lenses and the exaggerated contrast (and saturation) of the newest generation. I found myself liking the push and pull to zoom control. 

All in all the lens was a bargain for $100 and reminded me that some of the older stuff is still primo. 

I bought this lens for my particular uses and I'm not suggesting that you rush out and change camera systems or rush out to buy this lens. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that there's a lot of good, older stuff out there that's selling at bargain prices and rewards buyers who are patient, willing to test their own gear, and who buy from vendors who will allow you to return stuff that you might find lacking in performance to your standards. I like my big, heavy fast lens for a number of shooting opportunities and I like the more compact lens for daytime travel and street shooting. I'm lucky enough to be able to have both. 

Another editorial note: My book giveaway came to an end on Saturday morning and in the two days it was active we gave away over 6,000 Kindle versions of, The Lisbon Portfolio. I hope that we'll start to see a rash of (nice) reviews in the next few weeks at Amazon. I hope everyone enjoys the story and doesn't get too annoyed with any editing issues. I'm working on the second book and want to have it done by October of 2015. I continue to rely on your motivational support and encouragement. 

Thanks, Kirk

curiosity. What long telephoto zooms do you reach for when you go out to shoot and you know you want/need some reach? I'd be curious to know what my readers think the best fast tele zooms are for your systems. Comments?


John Krill said...

That first picture is one scary shot. And you were using an OLD lens with no vibration reduction. That alone confirms you have a really sharp lens.

Andrew Livelsberger said...

I still use the 80-200/2.8 for critical work, but when I want something lighter for walking around with my Nikon Df, I picked up a Tamron 70-300/4-5.6 VC.

Both very good lenses in their own way.

David Zivic said...

I recently switched from Nikon (D200-D700) to Sony (A7r-NEX6) camera bodies, but besides buying a Zeiss and Sony E-mount lens I also bought an adapter so my older manual focus Nikkor lenses work on the Sonys. I tested side by side a 200mm f4 Nippon Koguka next to a Nikon 70-300 VRG. On a tripod middle aperture, etc. and compared the two. The 200 was so old I needed to have it AI ed after market. The 60 year old lens that I purchased for about $100 tremendously outperformed the new $600 lens.
My theory is that back then Nikon only made pro lenses, and they now make "prosumer" lenses, more affordable to be competitive, but not pro quality. I also have an 85mm 1.8 Nikkor that one site claimed had a cult following as it was used by David Hemmings in the movie "Blow-up". It also had to have the aI milling done so stopping down is not necessary. Actually when I shoot with it I phantasize that mine is THE lens used in the movie.

James Weekes said...

I realized, after reading this post, how rarely I go over 45mm in Micro 4/3. I guess I don't "see" in telephoto. I own the wonderful Olympus 75mm and the Panasonic 45-200mm consumer zoom. The zoom always surprise me by being far better than it's semi-kit stature.

Now, thanks to you, I'll have to dust it off and play. Thank you.

Howard said...

1st...congratulations on the post revisions. I read the original, and although it contained honest reflections of the day, and of todays' society. I much prefer your newly stated approach to such observations. I Had the nikon 70-200 2.8, but rarely used it. No negatives, just too expensive to have sitting in the armoir. I bought the 70-300 vr 4.6-5.6 for the few times I need a longer reach. Such occasions are usually outside and in daylight, and on a tripod so little is lost for me.

Dave said...

The 70-210 is a nice (old) lens and one I keep just because it has no resale (and because I like it). Ditto for the 75-150mm f/3.5 which works splendidly on all my mirrorless whether Sony or M43.

Want a shocker? Grab an old 100mm f/2.8 E lens. Wonderful!

Hugh said...

I don't really like zooms.

I've recently replaced Canon's rather average 17-40mm L zoom with Olympus OM manual focus 21mm and 24mm primes.
Lighter, smaller, sharper and much cheaper.

I've also got a set of Pentax screw thread super multicoated Takumars (50mm, 100mm and 200mm) which will go on the Canon 5D3 or the Olympus m43 camera. Tiny, fun walk around lenses.

Anonymous said...


On my Nikon I use a 100-300 f4 Sigma. It is heavy, non vr and I use it when support is nearby (fence, tree, post etc). I think its quite good but not for carrying around all day.

For my m4/3 I sometimes go out with a Nikkor 105, 135, 180 or 200 depending on mood and "seeing". All are ai or ai'd lenses from the 70's. Strictly manual operation, but the shooting is more fun because it requires more concentration and commitment to getting the shot I want.

When using my m4/3 camera a zoom telephoto I use is the Oly 75-300 which is convenient, light, autofocus and frankly not very good beyond 250 or so. I don't often use it. But since you asked...


Jean Marc Schwartz said...

I use the nikon manual 80-2OO AI f 4.5
manufactured between 1977 and 1981;today used it coast 30 $. And you know what ? This is the best zoom lens realesed by nikon at this day. Really. Clearly. It's very sharp, colours are beautiful and contrast like ever done.

It's my favorite zoom lens for my work.
I used the tamron vc 70-300 mm which is good, but a lack of character to my own taste.
You do a great job Kirk so thanks to share with all of us.
Happy new year.

Anonymous said...

Negative and critical can also be insightful and informative.

Don't get TOO positive, you'll put Steve Huff out of business.


Paul said...

I have a Canon 80-200mm f2.8 L IS that I hardly use. It's a very good lens but way to heavy to use as a walk around just in case lens. For that use I have a 75-300 IS which is pretty soft at the long end but is pretty decent in the 75-200 range.

I now rarely use my full frame Canon I'm very enamoured with m4/3s, particularly the EM10 which I can just seem to put down. Long lens duty is being handled by the 40-150 which is an amazing lens considering how much it cost.

The last week or so has seen me shooting video of all the wildlife in my garden and apart from the macro work all the shots have been taken with 1990's cheap Sigma 70-210 in OM fitting. Using it at its long end on the EM10 has been a bit of a revelation, very soft and prone to flare and CA wide open, but 1 stop down and it is turning in very nice results. I'm going to have to explore the darker recesses of the equipment cupboard to see what other little gems might be lurking.

rexdeaver said...

So, when will The Lisbon Portfolio be available as an audiobook?

Aurèle said...

Funny to see you doing gear-fagotry but for old lenses !

To answer your question : the Pentax M75-150 f4. Optically it's very good, a good contrast, decent flare resistance.
But the main reason : the weight : 465 grammes ! It's less than most of the stabilized kit lens of nowadays ! :D

The weight of new lens is getting to high to be decently usable all day long, for continuous time IMHO.
That's why old lens are very good in that regard (lens glass, no VR, but solid and smooth).

Dave Jenkins said...

I have owned at one time or another six of the eight lenses Canon has made for the EOS system in the 70-210 range.

I started with the 70-210 f4 non-L, but it was never sharp enough at the long end, although very good around 135mm. Next was the 80-200 f2.8L “Magic Drainpipe.” I loved that lens, but the auto-focus died and it was so old Canon had quit repairing them. I replaced it with the 70-200 f2.8L-IS, but absolutely hated the weight, and didn’t feel the IS was all that much help. So I swapped it for a 70-200 f2.8L non-IS and some cash, but still hated the weight and bulk. Finally, I got the 70-200 f4L. I was home.

The two lenses in this range that I’ve never owned and have no plans to own are the 70-200 f4L-IS, and the 70-200 f2.8L-IS II.

Recently, I got a good deal on a very clean copy of the EF 70-210 f3.5-4.5. I thought it might be a smaller and lighter lens for travel, but after using it a bit, decided it wasn't all that much smaller and lighter than the 70-200 f4L, and not as sharp. So I gave someone else a good deal on it.

The Canon 70-200 f4L is a wonderful lens and will likely be the last one I own in that focal range unless I drop it or something. And then I will probably buy another one.

amolitor said...

I have a completely irrational love for my Nikon AIS 50mm f/2.0 lens. I have no opinion on the way it renders, except that it's sharp, I guess, even though I don't always use it to be sharp.

On a consumer Nikon body you get nothing. No metering, and focus assist is awful - you have to switch out of M to get that, and then back to M to actually shoot.

I just love it.

joerawr said...

Panasonic 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6, for just for Fun and light travel (with the 20mm Pany in a pocket for low light). I have a huge 70-300 Tamron for the A99, which is pretty good stopped down, but the whole package is too conspicuous.

I'd like to handle the pany 100-300 for awhile to see if it's too specialized or worth it's weight.

Anonymous said...

The bench photo above is nifty.

I use the cheap 50-150mm m.Zuiko on my oly, (mainly for landscape work).

The longest lens I have for the Bronica is the 150mm. It's my least used lens.

There's also a sct telescope I ccould/should adapt. Dunno what equivalent that'd be.

'normal' fl are more my bag.


Peter Wright said...

I have also used Nikon from the late '80s, and added m43 from 2008. I did own a 70-200 f2.8 as that was the lens that "serious" photographers were supposed to have, but no one pays me to take photographs and after a day lugging the thing round Rome in 30+ temps (Celsius of course!) I decided to ditch it. For me it was on the wrong side of the line (along with Otus lenses, Med format, etc) where someone would need to be paying me for such hard work. So like you, I got the 70 to 210 4.0-5.6 D lens for a song some time back. I was amazed at the performance and it has stayed with me ever since. I tried out the 70-300VR, but it was not as good, and it will not work on my older F2, FM3A cameras, so out it went as well. I am hoping that the 70-210 D lasts forever!

On m43, I started with the low cost Panasonic 45-200, because there was nothing else, added the 35-100 f2.8 when it came out, and very recently added the Oly 40-150 f2.8 with extender. The latter two lenses are better than the 45-200, but at f8 or so, not as much as I supposed. (Perhaps I have a very good copy?) Their main advantage is faster aperture. If photographing in a theatre one of these (together with the Oly 75 f1.8) is what I use.

I think the truth is that lens manufacturers figured out how to make very good tele zooms quite some time back, but need to keep us coming back to the trough some how. Sometimes I bite but less often as time goes by.

Kirk Tuck said...

Isn't it funny just how good the old stuff can be? In our rush to buy the same stuff the rest of the pros use I think we mis-remembered how efficient and effective "lesser" technology gear could be. Endless learning over here.

Dave Jenkins said...

Sometime in the mid-to-late '90s, Phillip Greenspun, the founder of photo.net, wrote that one could not be a professional photographer without owning and using a 70-200mm f2.8 lens.

That was somewhat disconcerting, because I had been a full-time working photographer for some years before owning anything longer than a 135.

Anders C. Madsen said...

The Nikon 70-210mm f/4-5.6 AF-D is actually the only zoom I own in this range for the Nikon mount, and while I agree that it can be reasonably sharp, it definitely shows its age from 135 mm and up - mine is not really sharp from around 180 mm by any definition. :)

However, it's only used for fun and as a last resort backup for my Nikon 85 mm f/1.8 G and my Nikon 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 AF-D, so I can live with it.

Oh, and while we are on the subject of older lenses with good value, the Nikon 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 AF-D is definitely a keeper - it's cheap, fairly well build and able to keep up with my 85 mm f/1.8 G at f/8! Not bad for an old zoom, that's for sure.

neopavlik said...

I just bought a used nikon 70-300mm AF-S VR lens before starting this article. Hope I get a good copy.

Laurent said...

I liked yesterday's post as well!!!! Thanks as always for your excellent blog.

Wally said...

Curious if the lack of ED coating has caused any issues.

Brian Billman said...

I've been shooting with Nikons for a few years, and being price conscious, have always tried to find the best price/performance lenses (have managed to acquire a bunch). Some of my favorite are:

* Nikon 180mm f/2.8 AF - almost perfect
* Nikon 70-210mm f/4 AF - my first telephoto, loses out in head to head comparisons, but still something about it
* Nikon 75-150 f/3.5 AIS - so small, but delivers big
* Nikon 50-135mm f/3.5 AIS - I like the range on FX, but bigger than the 75-150
* Nikon 135mm f/2 AI - lovely, but squat and heavy

Olli-Pekka S said...

I'm quite happy with Oly's 40-150 II R sitting on front of my E-M10 when I'm on my "telewalks" or in need of extra reach. I have some old nice K-mount manual primes and I'll probably pick up one of the wonderful shorter and smaller teles for portraits and such, just for the fun of it.

Anonymous said...

I have to admire someone who is able and willing to reconsider his original perspective to a more optimistic observation, especially after committing said opinion to the written and published word. That was nice ! Ever onward-my current "solution" (?) to the telephoto range is the Nikon 180 2.8 ED. I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I have purchased the Nikon 70-200 2.8 VR I for use on D-200 on three separate occasions. Hard time resisting the siren call of 2.8, superb optics, focus speed and build along with the what-the-pros-use model G.A.S. Euphoria at first,then eventually the grind of size, weight, ostentatiousness when I preferred stealth, and the amount of money invested in something of limited use for my advanced amateur needs. Eventually doing a trade at KEH or B&H for something lesser in all areas. At present, the 180 gives me excellent IQ, 2.8, adequate if not blazingly fast focus, and 50 % reduction in the package profile. And there is the added benefit of old time Nikon build-that great all metal construction along with a few quirks that contribute to such an appealing character. The 180 certainly qualifies as one of the ".....good, older stuff out there that's selling at bargain prices and rewards buyers who are patient....." I guess I'm a slow learner, but the trip was enjoyable !
PS-I thoroughly enjoyed "The Lisbon Portfolio". The many twists and turns made for a very exciting read-highly recommended. I especially enjoyed the tales of the Leica M4-not to be a spoiler. Guess I have (or had) a soft spot for them too !

Craig Yuill said...

I am surprised that you like that old 70-210mm f/4-5.6 lens. I borrowed one from a friend several years ago. I thought the images it produced were so-so. Perhaps that was an "off" copy I was using. My Tamron 70-210mm f/3.5 lens produces much better photos. I haven't used it in a while - perhaps I should get it out and shoot some pictures with it.

For long-tele work I mostly use the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 AF-S VR lens. It is quite light and compact for a medium-to-long FX-format lens - a good walkaround telephoto. It produces very good images at all focal lengths when I use a D7000. If I put the lens on a V1 then I try to avoid using it beyond 250mm, where it can often be a touch soft.

If I want to go really light, then I use a V1 and the excellent little 30-110mm 1 Nikkor lens.