Time For One More New Lens

While delivering my brief first assessment of the D600 I mentioned my desire for yet another fast 50mm lens. I must have 2 dozen fast 50mm lenses at the moment - my only motivation to acquire another is that I currently have none of the auto-focus variety. I don't feel that AF is absolutely a must have. In fact I probably use AF only half of the time even when it is available. Here's the rub: On modern AF cameras I cannot effectively use the manual focus mechanisms available for a lot of shooting situations. They are just not effective for me. So for that 50% where I do use AF when it's available - I have no way to reliably make the shot without it.

This is not a laziness thing or a refusal to get with the program at all. I have tried and tried but I just cannot pay attention to the little green dot down in the corner of the viewfinder and pay attention to what is going on with the subject in the frame when quick reaction time is required. When you combine my inability to do this with the utter **uselessness ** of direct visual confirmation of focus on the almost clear viewfinder screens I am dead in the water for 50% of what I shoot if I am using a manual focus lens on an auto-focus body. Hence I am forced to buy an AF fast 50mm.

I have probably owned half a dozen Nikon AF 50's over the last decade. Too bad I have no idea where they are now located. Some of them are probably with a few Nikon DSLR's that have disappeared, others may have gotten misplaced in multiple moves, I probably lent them to people on various occasions and forgot about them. Only one can I factually and accurately account for - I broke it or it broke on it's own. Either way the aperture doesn't work on it any longer so it's useless.

Ever since the D600 was ordered and on it's way here I have been waffling on the three reasonable choices available for Nikon shooters…

  • Go cheap with the Nikon 50mm F1.8 G - it will probably make me as happy or even happier than the 35mm G made me on DX. The safe choice - no big deal money wise and not a huge emotional issue if it has niggling issues that bother me because it's so cheap.
  • Go with the terribly overpriced Nikon 50mm F1.4 G. This is a complicated choice due to the fact that the focusing is soooo slow on the bodies that I have sampled it with. I swear my screw drive lenses are faster. The lens is really light so I cannot comprehend it's slowness. It's insane - why did Nikon bother with a motor that is this slow on a lens that only has to move around about a half an ounce of glass? It's pretty good optically but not fan-freaking-tastic. Probably not even in their top 5 in terms of performance optically. No super-duper-improved coating - nothing. I can live with all that but it's a tough pill to swallow at almost 500 bucks. There's nothing wrong with the lens it's just not a stellar leap forward and in someways it's a leap backward with no aperture ring, plastic build, etc. Why didn't Nikon do something like they did with the 24mm F1.4 N? Why - even for another couple hundred bucks, why not something superlative? Why?
  • Then the somewhat left of center field Sigma 50mm EX DG. At least this feels like a $500 lens. It's faster than the Nikon even though it's heavier - what an embarrassment that Sigma makes a faster focusing heavier lens than Nikon's best at 50mm. It's center performance is better and it has a nicer overall imaging look when wide open. To top all that off it's the same price or even a couple bucks cheaper if you look hard. Then again it's StigmaSigma. Even though I don't believe all the bullshit about focus issues etc that you read I still have that nagging feeling that I will be at risk of being Sigma-screwed with some ridiculous incompatibility or issue that could result in the need for a re-chip or whatever down the road a little ways. I don't have any superstitious belief about manufacturer's lenses or anything but… It's an AF lens with no aperture ring and a computer so any issue and it's a doorstop.

Decisions, decisions. Guess what lens I landed on. I did narrow it down to either of the F1.4's and finally end up grabbing the Nikon 105 F2 DC. You heard that correctly. Yes my head is screwed on a little different than most people's. In setting out to buy one of the two 50 F1.4's I made a snap decision to forget it and go with a lens that I forgot that I have wanted for a very long time about a quarter of a second before hitting the buy button on the Sigma. The tiny little bit of second guessing back to the Nikon caused me to remember this lens, remember what I was actually going to be shooting with the D600, remember that most of my shots at this perspective will/have been done on my X-Pro-1 with the glorious 35mm F1.4 XF, and finally remember that in a pinch I have that perspective covered with my 28-70 AFS if I happen to need it and don't have the Fuji with me.

For at least the time being I will be 50-less in the AF Nikon department. I may revisit this down the road but for now twice the money get's me ten times the lens at a focal length that I have been without for a long time. When shooting film I used 85's and 105's all the time. I still have a gaggle of them but no 105's in the AF variety since about 2005. "Why is this?", you ask. Well I had a bunch of 105mm lenses in manual focus and only the 105 Micro AF (not even the D) I purchased with my AF film cameras when I started down the digital road with the acquisitions of my D2 DSLR cameras. Turns out that I stopped using 100'ish lenses altogether on DX cameras. All of a sudden they were like a 180mm lens which is too tight for most of what I did. The 70mm end of the 28-70 covered me fairly well at great quality for a long time and either one of my 85mm AF lenses was a fantastic 135mm equivalent so the 105 Micro languished and one day just went belly up as evidenced when I tried to use it a year or so ago on my D7000. Even though it's not even a D type lens the electronics go haywire if the focus distance touches 4.5 feet or beyond. Go figure - it works great as an AF CPU chipped lens from closest focus distance to about 4 feet and if you or the camera twists the focus just a hair more past 4 feet the camera instantaneously and irrevocably decides it's a manual focus lens until you unmount it, dial the focus to under 4 feet and remount it. Turns out it's impossible to live with due to the fact that the 3ft - infinity focus twist happens in about .00000000001 of an inch. To tell the truth I don't really care because the short focus through beyond about 3ft is so short that I hated this lens from the get go.

That brings us to the 105 F2 DC. This lens was very high on my to buy list when I was shooting a lot of 35mm film. I just never got around to it as it has always been fairly expensive and I had so many manual focus 100'ish mm lenses. Along comes DX digital and I forgot about it. Without a doubt this has to be the best bargain that Nikon offers today. I cannot believe you can still buy these brand new for about $1000 - sometimes less if you look. I handled them a couple of times and shot a few frames a true classic. Built like a tank, fast, sharp as hell -amazing with some DC optionally built in if you choose to play with it. Even without the DC unique-ness it's a bargain. Both the 105 and 135 are sleepers and probably some of the best primes out there. I cannot wait until mine shows up. I will do a full assessment after I have a few hundred images under my belt and let you know the results but I expect it will exceed my wildest expectations.

If you are not familiar with the 105DC and are at all contemplating an FX body or in need of something around a 180mm DX equivalent this should be very high on your list of lenses to look at. It will only focus on a body with internal focus drive but will also work on any film body ever. Even without AFS it's pretty fast - probably faster than the 50mm 1.4G and most AFS consumer lenses. It's not a plastic build Chinese-y AF-D style lens like the 50mm AF-D 1.8. It's a strange hybrid of Nikkor AIS type build and AF, something Nikon did for their "pro" lenses for a while. Mostly metal, aperture ring, industrial black finish, heck one of the very few AF lenses that has a machined aluminum grip ring for mount/unmount like AIS lenses. Beautiful and just about as optically perfect as you are going to get with the DC setting to neutral. Get'um while you can…

Will update with real world results soon.


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