Photo Gear Picks: Three Nikon “D” Prime Lenses, to Go

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This year, I have had the good fortune to try some incredible lenses on my Nikon full-frame DSLR—lenses from Zeiss and Schneider for example, but when asked to formulate a list of my photo gear picks, all I could picture was a tennis-ball canister filled with three Nikon prime “D” lenses. Why admit to such a ridiculous image? Dreaming of summer maybe, but… why not? Close in size to a tennis ball, the three lenses offer a virtually identical form factor, each with a 52mm filter diameter, and would fit quite nicely in that can. With a little padding, it’s not a bad way to transport three lenses.

Kidding aside, to me, this is the “real deal”—affordable, supremely competent, fast aperture prime lenses that I can use day in and day out, not worrying about a bump or a mild scratch and confident that speed and image quality are well (well!) within the bounds of professional acceptability. Add to this the combined cost of the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D, the Nikkor 35mm f/2D and the Nikkor 24mm f/2.8D lenses (with or without tennis-ball canister), which is a fraction of just one of the above brand’s lenses. In fact, they cost significantly less than other Nikon FX-format lenses of the same focal lengths.

I’m not here to argue these represent the finest glass available and certainly other Nikkors have their advantages, but if value, size, and sharpness are your main concerns, it’s tough to knock these lenses. They provide solid, consistent imaging, are effective in low light, and they're lightweight and compact. One thing that must be stated up front is that on certain entry-level DX format DSLRs lacking an integrated autofocus motor, these “D” lenses can only focus manually. But with all other Nikon DSLRs they provide full auto and manual focus control and do offer something other “better” lenses do not—in addition to auto exposure control, they support an aperture ring for physical control of the diaphragm.

The AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D is the classic standard-length lens, useful for many applications, with a fast maximum aperture for crisp low-light shooting and shallow depth-of-field control. Nikon’s Super Integrated Lens Coating reduces flare and ghosting. It weighs just 5.5 oz and is only 1.5" long, great for day-to-day shooting. If you’re into street photography, the AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D is a wonderful choice. Of course, it’s fine for many applications, but I find the 35mm focal length the ideal perspective when I’m walking the streets. Its minimum focus distance is just 9.8".  The AF Nikkor 24mm f/2.8D provides the wide angle of view desired for much landscape and architectural work. This model features the CRC (Close-Range Correction) System for sharpness at close distances as well as Nikon’s Super Integrated Coating.

With these three lenses you are pretty much covered for almost all of the wide-angle to standard-length shooting you will ever do. Comparing the benefits of three prime lenses to one zoom, say the great AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED lens, is better left for another day, but for size, speed, and value, certainly a case can be made for these ”old school” primes. Tennis, anyone?