55-200mm or 70-300mm?

Nancy writes,

“For a complete amateur like myself, who just really really really likes to take a lot of photos…which lens? Nikkor 55-200 VR or the Nikkor 70-300 VR ED.  I currently have the 18-70 which came with my D80. My husband bought me the 55-200 but now he wants to change it to the 70-300 and I am not so sure.”

My first question would be “What are you going to use it for?” Neither are wide enough to be your “main” lens. If you’re buying a lens specifically for nature, the zoo, etc., the 70-300 is the better choice of those two.

However, if you’re heading out on a family vacation, I think you need to be honest with yourself about whether you want to carry more than one lens. If you buy either and end up leaving it in the car or hotel, you may not get your money’s worth.
Many serious amateurs and most professionals carry several lenses in their bag, but there is a price to be paid in terms of size and weight. For general family and vacation photography you might want to consider the Nikon 18-200 with VR.It’s more expensive than the lenses you’re looking at, but it would give you a single-lens solution.

On the other hand, if you plan to carry more than one lens in your bag, the next question becomes which lenses to carry. Unless you shoot a lot in the 55-70 range (and therefore would be changing lenses back and forth a lot), I think the 70-300 would be a better choice combined with your 18-70. My philosophy is that if I’m going to carry more than one lens I want to maximize the focal range I have available.

You’ll get plenty of conflicting advice on lenses, and it’s important to realize that every lens choice involves compromises like cost, speed, focal length range, and features. Those of us who have been at it for a while may choose lenses that would be a bad choice for you. For example, the lens on my camera most of the time is a 28-70mm, which gives me the equivalent of 42-105mm. Most people wouldn’t find that wide enough, but my shooting style is close up and intimate, and it gives me the results I want.  But it’s a compromise and I know that I may need a wider lens in my bag for some trips and a longer lens for others.

From a practical standpoint, these days I recommend that people starting out consider the 18-200mm. It’s expensive, but less than buying two lenses. It would allow you concentrate on composition and exposure instead of which lens to take with you or put on the camera. The 18-70mm is also a great lens, and a good foundation if you want to start carrying more than one lens, like the 70-300 for those really long shots or move up to a long f2.8 lens for serious nature photography. However, if you’re just finding 70mm too limiting on the long end and would really prefer to carry one lens, you might consider buying the 18-200mm and trade in or sell the 18-70 on eBay.

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