Prime Lens for Railfanning?

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Prime Lens for Railfanning?

Unread postby RailsandTrucks » Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:31 pm

Hi all,

I've finally made the jump into the DSLR world, picking up a Nikon D3100 over the summer before a 4 day motorcycle trip. I'm at the point now, where I'd like to go beyond the two "kit" lenses (non VR equipped 18-55 and 55-200) that I got with it. I don't get a chance to do much railfanning anymore, but I still consider trains one of my favorite things to photograph-even if most of my stuff has been touristy or scenery type shots from places I've visited (went around the north shore of Lake superior on said motorcycle trip this summer for example)

Since much of my shots lately have been of the wide-ish angle variety, and I've been kinda spoiled by having point and shoots that drop into the F2.0 range (I have a canon S100 currently and stupidly sold a panasonic LX7 before that).. I'm curious if anyone here uses a prime lens for rail-fanning and/or what everyone's thoughts are on the idea? I've seen Nikon lenses like the 28 and 34 mm variety, that offer F1.8, and the idea of a faster lens is tempting. Prime's seem to be a good way to get good glass, a fast lens, both at a more affordable price, hence my interest.

If a prime's not the best, what would be the ideal "next step" lens for me to get ? I figure something with VR if anything, but the Nikon's don't seem to be easy to tell (though granted I am VERY new with DSLRs) what is real high quality glass and what isn't (aside from looking at the price tag)...figuring though that anything they make is probably going to live up to my standards as a more casual user.

Curious on what everyone's thoughts are, Thanks for the help!
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Re: Prime Lens for Railfanning?

Unread postby Y@ » Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:49 pm

I dunno if Nikon makes a lens similar to this, but Canon has a 24-105L that is extremely well liked throughout the community. It's on my want list.
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Re: Prime Lens for Railfanning?

Unread postby TrainWatcher » Tue Dec 10, 2013 2:50 am

For my T4i, I typically shoot with a 55-250 telephoto and have had quite good results for a kit lens. I have been also looking at glass, but not really sure what else to add as I am not out as much as I used to be.
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Re: Prime Lens for Railfanning?

Unread postby Brian_F » Tue Dec 10, 2013 11:21 am

Starting in 83 and for years thereafter most of my shots were
taken with the 50mm f2.0 that was the then 'kit' lens on most
cameras. My only film camera right now is a Nikon N80 with a
50mm f1.8 D. It feels very natural for me to shoot with this lens.
A 35mm would be the equivalent lens on your D3100. Problem
is the 3100 doesn't have an autofocus drive motor in the body
so you're limited to G lenses with in-lens focus motors. The
35mm f1.8G is pretty reasonable and would be a good place to
start. A good short tele for wedgies and such would be a 50mm,
55mm or even one of the 60mm macros. Just make sure you're
getting the G AF-S versions.
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Re: Prime Lens for Railfanning?

Unread postby jkh2cpu » Tue Dec 10, 2013 2:33 pm

Hmmm... Prime Lens for Railfanning... That's a hard one because our subject matter is always changing... Back in the day (mid 1960s) a guy would be happy to have a 35, 50, and an 105 for a full frame 35 mm camera. Zooms were new then and really not up to the optical quality of a 'prime' lens. In today's world, I'd consider Y@'s recommendation, but for Nikon, you want a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR Zoom Lens. That's about 1200 bucks, and probably way beyond what you need for the D3100. Personally? I like my old 80-200 f2.8 on my Nikon D600...

From what you've told us, it seems to me that you have sufficient lens capacity already. If you want to add something to your arsenal, consider a decent tripod & head or monopod. Unless you've got a really heavy camera and shoot in windstorms or at night, a monopod will probably work well enough. Manfrotto makes great tripods, heads, and monopods. I'll lug around my Manfrotto 3046 tripod with either a 410 head (way overkill, except when shooting below 1/50 second and mirror slap begins to be a problem) or Manfrotto 322 RC2, but usually my Manfrotto 681B monopod is sufficient to stabilize the camera.

Why stabilize the camera? The real question is why spend gobs of bucks on a fine lens / camera and then blur the resulting image because because the camera's not stable... But then if camera shake's not an issue, why buy the good glass in the first place ;-)
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Re: Prime Lens for Railfanning?

Unread postby J T » Wed Dec 11, 2013 6:39 pm

Y@ wrote:I dunno if Nikon makes a lens similar to this, but Canon has a 24-105L that is extremely well liked throughout the community. It's on my want list.

I own the 24-105 and I consider that range to be VERY good for railroad photography. There are more extreme zoom ranges on the market, but unless you're paying several thousand, the quality is going to suffer a little.
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Re: Prime Lens for Railfanning?

Unread postby Y@ » Wed Dec 11, 2013 6:42 pm

In my experience, anything above 300mm will suffer unless you pay top dollar like JT said. It's almost the same thing on the wider end as well. Anything under 24mm can suffer from sharpness issues unless you're paying good money.
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Re: Prime Lens for Railfanning?

Unread postby bdconrail29 » Wed Dec 11, 2013 8:29 pm

I guess I have to ask "Why do you need a prime lens for railfanning?" If it's for wider apertures, your DOF will be too small and most of your photo will be blurry. I usually shoot everything f/8 or even narrower, for maximum DOF without significant diffraction. I guess if you were doing creative photography you could shoot f/2, but why?
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Re: Prime Lens for Railfanning?

Unread postby Norm » Wed Dec 11, 2013 8:50 pm

bdconrail29 wrote:I guess I have to ask "Why do you need a prime lens for railfanning?" If it's for wider apertures, your DOF will be too small and most of your photo will be blurry. I usually shoot everything f/8 or even narrower, for maximum DOF without significant diffraction. I guess if you were doing creative photography you could shoot f/2, but why?


F/8 is where I shoot almost all the time for the above reason.

I did inquire about a 18-200 lens but Nikon is too proud of them for my budget. It would be versatile, but I'll just make do with the three I already have.
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Re: Prime Lens for Railfanning?

Unread postby Y@ » Wed Dec 11, 2013 10:06 pm

bdconrail29 wrote:I guess I have to ask "Why do you need a prime lens for railfanning?" If it's for wider apertures, your DOF will be too small and most of your photo will be blurry. I usually shoot everything f/8 or even narrower, for maximum DOF without significant diffraction. I guess if you were doing creative photography you could shoot f/2, but why?


My "daylight range" is usually f5.6 to f7.1, but at night I'll use just about anything depending on what I'm going for.
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Re: Prime Lens for Railfanning?

Unread postby bdconrail29 » Wed Dec 11, 2013 10:18 pm

Y@ wrote:
bdconrail29 wrote:I guess I have to ask "Why do you need a prime lens for railfanning?" If it's for wider apertures, your DOF will be too small and most of your photo will be blurry. I usually shoot everything f/8 or even narrower, for maximum DOF without significant diffraction. I guess if you were doing creative photography you could shoot f/2, but why?


My "daylight range" is usually f5.6 to f7.1, but at night I'll use just about anything depending on what I'm going for.


Yep. You have an APS-C sensor though right? Your DOF increases by a factor of 1.6. f/5.6 is 5.6*1.6 = f/8.96, which is about f/8 to f/9 on FF. Don't worry, we match :D
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Re: Prime Lens for Railfanning?

Unread postby Y@ » Thu Dec 12, 2013 12:20 am

That would be correct! Brett the camera genius strikes again!
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Re: Prime Lens for Railfanning?

Unread postby cbehr91 » Thu Dec 12, 2013 12:34 am

Y@ wrote:That would be correct! Brett the camera genius strikes again!

Waves hi to Brett.
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Re: Prime Lens for Railfanning?

Unread postby RailsandTrucks » Fri Dec 13, 2013 3:12 pm

Awesome!

Thank you so much to all for the replies-definitely helps point me in the right direction. Appreciate all the input!

I've only had my nikon out a couple of times since I bought it, so I think I'm going try using it/getting familiar with/practice a bit more then before making any sort of decision. When I do decide to upgrade though, I think it'll be on a nicer lens somewhere within the zoom range I already have. Going to try putting my existing tripod to use a bit more-but I like that idea of the monopod-one reason I haven't used my tripod much is how bulky it can be and how long sometimes it takes to set up for my height (I'm about 6'2, so when the camera is on the pod, I like it to be a bit higher then most)

Thanks a ton for the info! Hope to see you all out in the field at some point.

Happy holidays to all,

Karl
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Re: Prime Lens for Railfanning?

Unread postby bdconrail29 » Fri Dec 13, 2013 8:18 pm

cbehr91 wrote:
Y@ wrote:That would be correct! Brett the camera genius strikes again!

Waves hi to Brett.


Hi Cory! I've been MIA lately I know. I'll get in touch with you.
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Re: Prime Lens for Railfanning?

Unread postby PatAzo » Fri Dec 20, 2013 2:03 pm

You could certainly railfan with prime lenses. Generations of fans have already done it. It is a question if that is what you want to do. Probably one of Nikon’s best is the 24-70 f2.8. I have shot the 24-70 and have the older 28-70 f2.8. They are both great lenses. New the 24-70 runs almost $1900. If you covered the same range with primes, say a 28mm f1.8G, 50mm f1.8G and 85mm f1.8G you’d have about $1500 into it. Optically they are pretty well matched with only small differences. The primes offer a weight advantage. The 24-70 tips in at 2lbs. Individually the primes are half that or less. That doesn’t count the whole set and the bag to carry them in.

Convenience is where zooms have the edge on primes. With one lens you can select the focal length the scene needs without swapping lenses. I bought a 50mm f1.8D a few years back and considered primes. But not having to open the body up alongside farm fields, in the wind etc. made a good zoom my choice.

Fast lenses give a brighter view finder and in my unscientific opinion a tighter focus. But I don’t find many opportunities to railfan wide open. Depth of field gets to shallow. F5.6 is usually as low as I go.

www.photozone.de has reviewed most of Nikon’s line up. It might help you get an idea how your current gear compares to something different. www.dpreview.com has a pretty active forum with a boat load of lens discussion. It can take some effort to get through the quibbling arguments. The difficulty is almost none of those people are shooting the same subjects as railfans. Not every subject or viewer needs a top end lens on the camera.

Technique is probably more important than the particular lens. Kit lenses are often maligned but they aren’t bad lenses, just not the best. The biggest step forward for me was technique. Controlling the point of focus rather than letting the camera decide. Shooting with a support. Realizing I could get a better result with a small bit of post processing instead of trying to “get it right in the camera”. Lastly, recognizing when the light just simply sucks.

Something I’d also recommend to anyone thinking of moving up to an expensive lens is to rent one first. www.lensrentals.com and Calument Photographic rent equipment. For $30-60 you can shoot one for 3-4 days and see what you’ll get before putting down your cash.
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