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Lens and lighting


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Hi there

Im a hobbyist photographer, doing some shoots on the side for practice. I love macro and food photography, as well as portraiture. 

Im currently looking at buying a new lens, possibly the 50mm or the 35, mainly for portraits and somewhat for macro if possible in any way.

I also want to get a speedlight for indoor shoots.

I am rather overwhelmed at all of the options available in these products. I currently have the standard 2 lenses that came with my D5100 (18-55 and another zoom lens I cant recall).

As Im not a pro, Im looking for the cheapest, but also best possible quality in the ranges they have.

I have been looking on Amazon as they seem to have the cheapest deals, although I am based in Durban, South Africa.


I would really appreciate any tips and advise on which lens and speedlight to pick.


Thank you

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One lens i HIGHLY RECOMMEND is the Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8G DX lens. It's a fantastic lens for the price-point. In the US, the lens runs just under $200 new. The 50mm f/1.8G lens is decent as well. I'd personally skip the 50mm f/1.4G lens in favor of the 58mm f/1.4G. The 50mm f/1.4G lens gives a lot of people focus problems. That lens had caused more threads in the original Ask Brian Group on FB. I hate that stupid f-ing Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens. Back-Focus City. (Especially on Nikon D700 bodies) Or just soft focus. For some, the lens worked great, for the other 98% of us out there, the 50mm 1.4G just plain sucked.

As for a Macro lens, you really have a four choices. You could go with the Nikon 40mm DX Macro, but with that focal length, it's really unnecessary. The king of the Macro Lenses in Nikon's world is the 105VR lens. It's expensive, but it's a great lens. The alternative to it is if you purchase the Nikon 60mm Macro lens, it's decent and at a lower price-point. There is also a 85mm DX Macro, but it's a "Meh" lens. I think either the 60mm Macro or 105VR Macro is a better choice. The DX equivalents are "Meh."

Speaking of Macro...don't think you will be able to set it to f/2.8 and get close. Macro shooters live in f/8-f/16 land. Since you are so close to your subject, you NEED to stop down due to the Depth of Field change. In fact, Nikon's Macro lenses will automatically stop down as you get closer to your subject. In order to get f/2.8 on the Macro lenses, you'll need to be 4-5 feet away from your subject. Since you will be stopping down on your lens to f/8 or smaller, you are going to need flash. Period. Unless you can find another way to illuminate your subject or only shoot in bright sunlight. For those amazing macro shots is even a more amazing light-setup just behind the scenes.

As for what flash to buy? The other admins will recommend what I call the "Kung Pow!!" flashes, they are the Yongnuo YN560 III flashes and are really cheap. If you were to ask me on what flashes to get, I'd say at least a Nikon SB-700 or better yet a SB-910 or the newest SB-5000. Quality control has gotten better with the Kung Pow! flashes, but at around $90 US, you get what you pay for. So if one dies unexpectedly, you are only out $90 or so. Oh, you'll want to budget for wireless triggers and possible stands, as Macro Photography can be it's own beast. 

Bottom Line: Before diving into all sorts of lenses and flashes, pick up the AF-S 35mm f/1.8G DX lens and start there, THEN look for another lens. You will be amazed on just how much sharper a prime lens is compared to your kit lenses. Plus, you will have all sorts of Apertures available for you to learn (f/1.8-f/2.8) that aren't available on your kit lenses. Learn all of your apertures before you go into debt on this stuff.
Believe me, I know the power of Gear Acquisition Syndrome or NAS, (Nikon Acquisition Syndrome.) Resist the urge!! Your wallet will thank you. I've spent over $10,000 on this stuff and believe me, it never ends.

It's only money, right?  :D

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wow thank you so much for all of this! I had been receiving conflicting information about the 50mm and the 35mm but I am sure now that I'd rather take the 35, thank you! I will also definitely wait before purchasing a macro or any other lens (mainly because I can only afford one at the moment if Im also getting a flash).

I have also recently found out that my camera body, the D5100, does not come with an auto focus so every lens I buy has to have autofocus which makes my lenses more pricey. Do you think it will be worth my while in the long run to just buy a new body that does have autofocus so that when I want to buy new lenses, they will be more affordable? Or should I just stick to the Nikon and fork out a bit more for the lenses?

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You simply need to look for lenses that have "AF-S" in the description. That means the auto-focus sonic motor is built into the lens. The older "AF" lenses will not auto-focus on your body.

For example:

The AF-S 35mm f/1.8G DX that I recommended above will work just fine on your camera body.

The older (and a bit cheaper) AF 50mm f/1.8D will not auto-focus on your D5100. You would need the newer version, the AF-S 50mm f/1.8G. 

Clear as mud? ;) 

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Bodies that have an AF motor built in will give you more options, but those lenses probably will not perform better, probably worse, than their newer counterparts. The reason is that current entry-level cameras start at 24MP. So you can't get away with crappy glass as you once did. Sure you could but a AF 85mm f/1.8D, but the newer AF-S 85mm f/1.8G has better colors and contrast. Plus it's even sharper in the corners compared to the more expensive AF-S 85mm f/1.4G. 

I've tried going the cheap route. In the end, I usually have buyer's remorse and end up getting the more expensive lens. So my philosophy is to "Buy it Right...Buy it Once." Photography really has never been cheap. That said, I still think your next step is buying the AF-S 35mm f/1.8G DX and educating yourself.

Shoot EVERYTHING with that lens for 3 months. Learn composition. Learn good technique. Learn what the lens will and won't do. Learn to see with your mind's eye before you put the camera to your eye. Because even though I have professional gear, it all starts with me. I have taken the world's most awful photos with a $2400 lens. So even though the expensive stuff makes things easier on most occasions, if you suck...you will still suck... but only with expensive toys. :) 

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