GEAR REVIEW - NIKKOR 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6G
Some of you reading this may find yourself asking "Why the hell is he reviewing an old kit lens?" Granted, the evolution of most photographers is to ditch their kit lenses and old glass in favour of modern, wide aperture optics with image stabilization. I'm of the opinion that a good lens, is a good lens, regardless of age and maximum aperture. So why am I bothering to waste my time telling you about it? Quite simply because its a little beauty. There are so many positives to it that they far outweigh the negatives.
I thought I'd get the negatives out of the way first, so we can concentrate on all the good aspects. They are all pretty minor in the grand scheme of things but, will point them out for digest all the same.
Plastic mount (durability may be an issue)
Plastic body (If you drop it or knock hard, it's probably going to break)
No AF on entry level DSLRs (Sucks for some of you guys but hey, that's life)
Max aperture of f/5.6 @80mm (f/4 or f/3.5 would have been much nicer)
Distortion. (Virtually all lenses have it but is largely correctable in Adobe Camera Raw, so a minor "issue")
No VR (at these focal lengths you don't really need it, which is why you don't find it in the 24-70mm f/2.8)
Now for the positives. The first appealing feature is the weight, or distinct lack thereof. This lens is less than 200g and not having something heavy hanging off the front of the camera is definitely a welcome change. Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky but, if any of you have humped heavy glass around your neck, shooting for hours on end, you'll know what I'm on about.
The focal length is very usable. On a crop sensor, not quite so much (42-120mm equivalent) but if you're packing an FX sensor or shooting film, 28mm is plenty wide enough and 80mm gives nice compression of the face for portraits. The zoom barrel is wide and rotates very quickly and the rubber provides a solid grip. Some may prefer a longer, more precise zoom range gearing, others the ability to zoom in or out in a hurry. It also close focuses down to 35cm with a "macro" reproduction ratio of 1:3.5, which isn't too shabby at all.
Focus speed is another very attractive feature of this lens. I was pretty shocked at how fast it was, going from infinity to close focus in about half a second on the D800. Coupled with the rapid zooming ability too, it makes it ideal for photographing kids on the move.
Perhaps the most redeeming attribute is the image quality this lens produces. Even on the 36MP of the D800, the 28-80mm is sharp. Even with the aperture wide open, photos are highly usable and in fact, much better than some "pro" f/2.8 lenses I have used in the past. On high contrast subjects like a chess board, you will get a bit of blue fringing but stopped down it disappears, leaving crisp, well defined edges. For a cheap, plastic kit lens, Nikon really pulled a rabbit out of the hat.
Saving perhaps the best to last, is the price. As this lens was discontinued back in 2006, you can only get it secondhand. Mint condition copies can be had for under £50, sometimes less - especially the silver version, as a most Nikon shooters are image conscious (no pun intended) and want matching camera bodies and lenses. Personally, I couldn't give a toss if it was bright pink with green spots on, if it's delivering the goods,
The 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6G gets a big thumbs up from me. For the money, this little lens offers tremendous bang for the buck, with sharp images and lightning fast focus speeds. It's full frame and the zoom range is ideal as a general purpose lens for a day out in the countryside and if you're making a day of it, the lack of weight is an added bonus. If fast apertures aren't a prerequisite of your photography and you want something cheap and extremely cheerful, then track one of these down. Don't confuse it with the older AF-D version which has an aperture ring. The crappy plastic body is where its at!