For most photographers, a kit lens like Nikon 18-55mm (f/3.5-5.6) is their first lens to own, but there will come a time to grow out of it. Then, what do you get as your step up lens, especially for us shooting cityscape photos at twilight and dusk (a.k.a. blue hour)?
Two Types of Lenses: DX (EF-S) and FX (EF)
Just like camera bodies explained in the previous chapter, lenses also come in two types. While DX (Nikon) and EF-S (Canon) lenses are designed solely for use on cropped sensor DSLR, FX (Nikon) and EF (Canon) lenses are primarily designed for use on full frame DSLR, but also work on cropped sensor DSLR (although focal length is multiplied by 1.5 for Nikon and 1.6 for Canon).
CROPPED SENSOR DSLR (e.g. NIKON D5600)
With DX lens (e.g. Nikon 10-24mm): Focal length becomes 15-36mm due to 1.5x crop factor.
With FX lens (e.g. Nikon 18-35mm): Focal length also becomes 27-52.5mm due to 1.5x crop factor.
FULL FRAME DSLR (e.g. NIKON D810)
DX lens cannot be used.
With FX lens (e.g. Nikon 18-35mm): Focal length remains 18-35mm (no multiplication).
My Biggest Mistake in Choosing Step up Lens
My biggest mistake was that I chose Nikon 18-200mm (f/3.5-5.6) as my step up lens. At first, this superzoom lens seemed like an ideal all-in-one solution for travel lovers like myself. However, I soon realized that I was rarely using anything longer than 30mm, as I grew my interest in cityscape photography and shot almost everything at 18mm. Also, its image quality was far from satisfactory, as (I later learned) the versatility and convenience in superzoom lenses come at the expense of outright image quality.
Furthermore, Nikon 18-200mm is a DX lens. When I eventually upgraded my body to Nikon D610 (full frame) a few years later, the lens became no longer usable because it’s not compatible with full frame DSLR. If you’re aiming to one day upgrade to full frame DSLR, you may consider an FX (EF) lens as your step up lens by skipping all DX (EF-S) lenses. Although FX (EF) lenses are typically pricier, I see no point spending on DX (EF-S) lenses that can’t even be used once upgraded to full frame DSLR.
My Choice of Wide Angle Zoom Lens for Cityscape Photography at Blue Hour
Lenses come in a variety of focal lengths, but particularly for us cityscape photographers, a wide angle lens (i.e. 18mm or shorter at wide end) should be the priority. Looking at the lineup of Nikon FX wide angle zoom lenses, there are four lenses available, namely Nikon 14-24mm (f/2.8) , 17-35mm (f/2.8) , 16-35mm (f/4) and 18-35mm (f/3.5-4.5) .
Both 14-24mm and 17-35mm cost whopping USD2000 while 16-35mm costs USD1100, but this is for reasons, such as having fixed fast aperture at f/2.8 or VR (Vibration Reduction, a.k.a. IS [Image Stabilization] for Canon). Personally, I see those features redundant for us taking cityscape photos at blue hour, as we’re never in need of f/2.8 (useful for indoor shooting), and VR needs to be turned off when using a tripod for long exposure photography, anyway.
VR (Vibration Reduction, also known as IS [Image Stabilization] for Canon) featured on Nikon 16-35mm (f/4). VR helps cancel out vibration when shooting “handheld”, but is rather redundant for us blue hour photography enthusiasts always shooting “with a tripod”.
That’s why I’m now shooting with Nikon 18-35mm (f/3.5-4.5), the least fancied of the four. With no fixed aperture and no VR, this USD750 lens is not in the same league as the aforementioned lenses, but these shortcomings have no negative impact when taking cityscape photos at blue hour, and I’m more than happy with its image quality, too.
Personally, I started photography with entry-level Nikon D60 (cropped sensor DSLR) with a kit lens back in 2009, not even knowing what “crop factor” means, and finally upgraded to full frame DSLR (Nikon D610) in 2014, shooting with my trusty 18-35mm lens ever since. When choosing “cropped sensor or full frame” and “DX (EF-S) or FX (EF)”, I guess it all comes down to your preference and budget. That said, it’s good to know these differences at the early stage of your photography life, as it helps you make an informed decision when you grow out of your first set of body and lens.
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