Lenses I've Fallen Out of Love With

I'm going to restrict this article to the current (April 2020) F-mount lenses available from Nikon. If I included every older lens Nikon has made, I'd spend weeks finishing the article. 

The premise here is this: when a lens initially appeared, I immediately took to it for some reason. It was love at first focus. But continued use slowly soured my view of these lenses to the point where I no longer use them (and likely no longer own them). 

We'll start with DX lenses:

  • 12-24mm f/4G — This was exactly the focal length I was looking for back in those early days of DSLRs (18-36mm equivalent). It was well made, not overly big, and covered the critical 18-24mm (effective) focal range where most of my landscape work was done. Back when I was using 6mp, and then later 10 and 12mp cameras, the 12-24mm worked for me. It wasn't spectacular, but it produced results I was very happy with, and it took filters well. For a brief period after the D3 first came out, it also served double purpose, since the imaging circle was big enough to use on full frame from about 18mm (real) onwards. 

    Why I fell out of love: megapixels and more modern optical design. Once DX got to 24mp, the 12-24mm started to look a little weak. Not that the corners were bad, but overall just not the snap and contrast of the more modern lens designs that started to appear. Moreover, those modern lenses tended to have less chromatic aberration and other defects. 

    The 12-24mm f/4G is still a decent choice today for some, but I find I have to work a little harder to get my images the way I want them. Love affair over.

  • 17-55mm f/2.8G — The first fast aperture mid-range zoom for DX. It's a solid—seemingly literally—choice for indoor and event work. I fell in love with its rendering on 12mp cameras, and interestingly, it still seems pretty darned good on the 20/24mp cameras we have today. 

    Why I fell out of love: size and weight for performance, coupled with that 17mm bit (which makes it closer to 26mm effective). The 16-80mm f/2.8-4E solved both things, though gives up some aperture at the longer end.

    I was amused when everyone claimed the 16-80mm was "too expensive." Uh, the 17-55mm is 50% more expensive (still), doesn't get you to 24mm effective, and isn't better optically. Yep, you lose about a half stop at 55mm, and yes, the 16-80mm has considerable linear distortion that needs correcting, but I still see it as the better choice now. I switched my love to a new partner.

I suppose I could add a few more lenses to the DX "fell out of love" list. For example, the 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G. But I wasn't that I was really in love with those lenses ("I love you, but I'm not in love with you...").

In FX, the following lenses are the ones I had short flings with that have now ended:

  • 16-35mm f/4G — This seemed like a lens I'd like a lot from day one. Useful focal range, the smaller aperture and front design allowed my 77mm filters, plus the inclusion of VR. All beauty traits that attracted me. 

    Why I fell out of love: I was surprised at how often I simply wouldn't pick this lens to pack over my 14-24mm f/2.8. Like, always. I don't use filters much any more, and VR at those focal lengths wasn't something I really needed (and it complicated bokeh). Couple that with the fact it isn't that much smaller and lighter and it has a lot of linear distortion, and in the end I just couldn't find things that made me want this lens over another. I fell in love with some a few features, but I needed more than superficial beauty.

  • 24-120mm f/4G — Oh, oh, there's a trend starting to happen here (and yes, it's going to continue). When the 24-120mm first appeared it was sort of a hybrid lens. For DX shooting it was a useful and effective 36-180mm—which I'd couple with the 12-24mm, see above—and for FX shooting it was a mid-range zoom with a very useful bit of telephoto extension. Great. 

    Why I fell out of love: I've never found this lens to be optically exceptional. It's okay (by today's D780 standards). What kept happening is that, if I thought I needed an aperture compromised mid-range zoom, I'd pick the 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G instead. That lens was smaller and lighter and really gave up nothing other than a fixed aperture and some telephoto reach. In point of fact, I sold my 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G once thinking maybe I was hallucinating over its goodness, then ended up buying a refurbished one when I discovered I missed it. All the while, I had a 24-120mm I wasn't using...I simply loved another.

  • 70-200mm f/4G — Told you the trend would continue! It seems that all the f/4 zooms strongly attracted me at first. The premise is that you give up some aperture for a cheaper, smaller, lighter lens, but you don't give up anything else. 

    Why I fell out of love: Well, what I gained wasn't as good as what I ended up losing, basically. That became particularly clear when the 70-200mm f/2.8E appeared and just knocked the socks off all the other telephoto zooms of this range. Now the 70-200mm f/4 always felt like a small step backwards optically, but now it was a big step, and for what gain? Basically cheaper, lighter, smaller. Those things don't motivate me any more if I'm giving up quality. A better love stole my heart.

  • 200-400mm f/4G — Oh dear, he's going to kick out all the f/4 Nikkor lenses! For a wildlife and sports shooter, 200-400mm is a really nice focal length range. First, it fits right on top of your fast telephoto zoom (70-200mm), and second it provides just enough reach that can still be handheld, if needed (also more manageable on a monopod). f/4 at 400mm is still pretty good at isolating subjects. I've long been one of those shooters who say "if I need a 600mm+ lens, then I'm not stationed where I want to be." So 400mm is a good top end for me. 

    Why I fell out of love: You all know this story by now. I tried both the first and second version of the 200-400mm for many years. Both had the same issues: they were superb at close in distances and mediocre at long distances, plus they both didn't tolerate TC's all that well when you really did need a bit more reach (the II version was better at this than the original). 

    Now having had the chance to compare the 180-400mm f/4E, I'll just double down on my 200-400mm f/4 divorce. The 180-400mm fixes both flaws, and clearly so. Of course, you'll pay almost US$6000 more to fix those flaws (and get a free TC). That's a bit too far on the 
    sugar daddy spectrum for me to play, though.

  • 200-500mm f5.6E — Bet you weren't expecting this lens on my list. So what did this inexpensive little vixen do to make me fall out of love? Nothing, really. For the price, it's still exceptional, and for many of you, it's the only long telephoto you need.

    Why I fell out of love: The 500mm f/5.6E PF, basically. Here's the thing: I noticed I wasn't even considering packing the 200-500mm f/5.6E any more. Why? Because I don't tend to use the wider end of that lens, and Nikon made zooming back from 500mm a bit of a two-step operation to start with. The 500mm f/5.6E PF is also so easy to handhold compared to the 200-500mm. Of course, the 200-500mm is less than half the price, and holds its own pretty well at 500mm, so I'm sure there are still some of you in love with your copy.

Now don't read this article incorrectly. I didn't say any of these were bad lenses or that you shouldn't use them. I'm simply pointing out that I've been enticed by new loves. Your mileage may (should) vary.

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