This article is written in response to “The Question of 18-300mm Lenses” article written by Romanas Naryškin. I used to like my 18-300mm zoom – I called it my Guilty Pleasure Lens (GPL). It was hands-down the most fun lens I ever shot with. When I wanted to just go out on an adventure outside and had no idea what I’d run into, instead of grabbing my FX body, my 16-35mm zoom, 50mm prime, 105mm macro, 80-400mm zoom and of course a manservant to carry all that gear, I’d grab GPL and my D7000 and blast on down the trail. Sure GPL wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but neither am I. In our shared ignorance we’d shoot grand vistas or cool nature abstracts or maybe even crawl through the dirt for a close-up or two. What a fool I was thinking I’d found a partner that liked to do all the things I liked to do.
Well, I’ve seen the light and it was time to get even with GPL for deceiving me into thinking we had something special. Before tossing GPL into the dumpster I was going to show it how a real lens behaved. Enter the 10 lb 1 oz Baby Jesus, AKA the Nikkor 800mm, AKA BJ. Yep, the top stud in the Nikon stable. The lens that doesn’t have a MTF curve – it has a WTF curve. And GPL, well suffice it to say we know what gets shoveled up from the stable floor. I figured I’d go out on one last shoot with GPL, ostensibly for “old times sake”, but really to show GPL how a real lens like BJ would handle those situations.
Right off the bat I think GPL knew something was up. GPL insisted we shoot a selfie. This is what it looks like when an 18-300 owner takes a selfie:
And at 100% – ick.
It was a bit awkward getting the selfie with BJ.
But the results were impressive. Check out the creamy bokeh. Awesome.
We then rolled over to Sunset Crater where GPL saw an abstract cinder slope landscape. Knock yourself out GPL, this is your last hurrah.
Hmmm, kinda cool, but let’s see what BJ has to say about these cinder hills. Oh yeah – BJ gets right down to the inky soul of the landscape.
Not only that, but he throws in a Golden Eagle sweeping the cinders with a wingtip to boot.
100% of awesome is just more awesomer. Take that GPL – you couldn’t shoot a bird if you were full of buckshot. Just to prove it let’s look at this roadrunner. So sharp it hurts your eyes, huh?
What do you say to that GPL? Uh, what? You shot that? Don’t lie to me, I’m checking the metadata. Oh, you did shoot that, at 300mm no less. Oh, now I remember when we shot that – that doesn’t count, that roadrunner had a limp. And besides, this is just at web resolution. Nobody shares photos on the web. What do you think this is? My Space?
At this point GPL was getting desperate and insisted we shoot some close-ups. I’m a sucker for nature detail shots so I gave in.
That’s pretty, but lets look closer. Ah ha, look at those soft spots between the rocks!
“But that’s just OOF,” pleaded GPL.
“You can’t spell goof, without OOF,” I replied. That shut GPL up.
BJ stepped up to the plate, or I should say, stepped back. One of the great advantages of the 800mm is its 18-foot minimum focusing distance. With GPL I had to kneel in the sharp cinders to get the shot. With BJ I just trekked back a ways, meticulously set up my tripod, wiggling the legs back and forth until they sunk far enough in the cinders to stay put, then got the supplementary weights attached to stabilize the setup in the wind, readjusted the legs, locked down the gimbal pan and tilt knobs, bumped up the ISO to get a fast enough shutter speed, then busted off this masterpiece.
You can just feel the way that lichen spattered cinder has persevered through the ages, the arrival of Columbus, the Emancipation Proclamation, Pearl Harbor, The Brady Bunch… This is deep. This is what you get when you don’t have to work around the limitations of a superzoom lens.
GPL tried to distract my attention from critical pixel-level sharpness with a mix of showy colors and fun composition.
Really now. You think I’m that unsophisticated? BJ yawned, then revealed the true essence of the subject.
When you look at this you are first struck by the Zen-like simplicity, then the parallels with The Pieta strike you, followed by a hint of The Scream and a long smooth finish of Nude Descending a Staircase. True art as only a real lens can deliver.
GPL then tried to plead its case as so many photographers do these days, by playing the “if Ansel Adams were still alive, he’d like me” card.
Pathetic. I could never print this bigger than 11”x17” and keep a proper 300 dpi resolution so I could soak it in from my standard 7.4 inch viewing distance.
That’s it. It’s the dumpster for you GPL.
“No, no,” pleaded GPL. “Give me one last chance. Tomorrow morning I’ll take on BJ at the very thing he does best – shooting lens charts. If I can’t take a better lens chart shot than BJ, then throw me in the dumpster. But if I take a lens chart shot that makes you happier than BJ’s shot, then you have to promise to never throw me away or sell me. Deal?”
Trash pickup wasn’t for a couple days so what the hell, I’d have one last laugh at GPL’s expense. The next morning I let BJ go first. The results would be enough GPL would probably jump in the dumpster without my help.
Oh, now this brings tears to my eyes. Especially when I squint to see the 800 lines. Okay GPL, it’s your last click, make it good. Oh my goodness!
Warning, the link to the image is tagged as “not safe for work” (NSFW). Link to open the image.
Dear dear GPL, you always were my favorite. No prime lens could ever do all the things you do. I was so silly buying all that expensive glass thinking I’d be busting out loads of 20”x30” prints. Heck, my printer only accepts 8.5”x11” paper anyway. Remember that raft trip down Desolation Canyon when I could only bring one lens? You were the perfect companion. And the shots were plenty good for the Blurb book we did afterwards. Sure I have to learn to shoot around your limitations, but guess what, all lenses have limitations one must learn to shoot around, even BJ and Otis. You might be a tad heavy Baby, but that’s just more of you to love (and rumor has it you’re on a new diet). You know GPL, if I had to spend the rest of my life on a desert island with only one lens, it would be you.
Hi John, I just saw this article three years later in May 2017, as someone wrote, this was my best laugh all week!
Thanks for this and also for your other Photography Life contributions, which I eagerly read.
Okay John I am looking for a new GPS for my
I think you meant GPL? IN which case the new 18-300 is much lighter than my old one and will cover a ton of situations. As long as you aren’t printing big it should be fine. If you’re looking for something sharper the new 18-80 (sold as a kit with the D500) is a 24-120mm equivalent. I haven’t shot it, but with a much shorter zoom range it’s likely to have less optical compromises and is likely sharper.
Hi Verm, This post is epic congratulations, I keep rereading it. So I will ask my question here even if it is totally unrelated: which kind of settings would you recommend to a newbie shooting birds or other rapidly moving wildlife? I am on a D750 and in particular I am wondering if it is better to shoot in shutter priority or instead pick aperture priority and an auto ISO with high minimum shutter speed. Would you keep Auto ISO on in any case? And if yes, which kind of minimum shutter speed is a good value, high enough for most occasions? Thanks a lot for the help!
For starters try 1/1250, f/8 and auto ISO. This will freeze most movements but wingtips will likely still blur on BIF. After you get comfortable with that setting start experimenting with what pleases your eye.
Just happend across this. Great article. I never understood all the hate leveraged on super zoom lenses. Like every other lens, they have their applications. I have a 7D and a crap ton of lenses but when I travel overseas I bring my Sigma 18-250 and my Sigma 10-20. Sure, I could accomplish the same thing with 5 lenses (and 4x the weight) but I don’t have to. That’s the nice thing about the right tool for the right job. Then again, now that I’ve added a 6D (and even more lenses) I’ll be tempted to take that but I’ll try to resist…
Great and funny article. Please write more of these!
I really think that the photo-world would really benefit from a bit of self-humor; too often we are seriously bickering around small things…
I have to say that this article prompted me to buy a superzoom. Now my set is a 18-250 and a couple of primes (35 and 105/macro) — and I think I am perfectly covered as an hobbyst.
This is a great response to Romanas’ article. I also love the picture of the Golden Eagle, it is beautifully surreal.
I am a big fan of superzooms, and the new 18-300 is an ideal lens for me. However, I hate the idea that I as I carry it around, hardcore photographers are sneering at me. Why is there need for hate? I never claimed to be a pro, I’m just an amateur, trying to enjoy the scenery and find an excuse to get away from my xbox.
I have a D7100 which you can find in stacks at Costco next to competing 70Ds; I’m already aware that this is a mainstream device. Still, I read and study books and info from Scott Kelby, Ken Rockwell, and Trey Ratcliff to further myself as the prosumer that I try to be. I just want to enjoy this camera and lens, and your article helps me to do so. It reminds me, that at the end of the day, it is the photo that matters, not how you got it or what equipment was utilized.
A lighter taking on the issue about “Gear is Greatness…”! Great article, sir. Was able to loosen up a little bit with the pressures of acquiring flagship equipment…xD (By the way, I’m still a DX user at the moment…)
The conception that “Gear = Greatness” will never be taken out of the equation, whoever you may ask…but like we always say here in the Philippines: “Wala yan sa pana, nasa indian yan!” (Direct translation: It’s not with the type of bow and arrow you use, it’s in the indian’s archery skills…in our world, it’s not in the gear we use, it’s in the way we use our equipment that brings the greatness in what we are doing)
I loved this article. Great laughs! Maybe there should be a rebuttal article like this from a photographer like John for every lens/camera review on here?
Fabulous – well said and said well….
I thought much of the commentary from the previous 18-300 posting amounted to debating whether or not a Happy Meal picked up in the drive through lane tastes better than the inside counter Happy Meal. Well folks, it’s still a Happy Meal (and at times there is nothing wrong with that, but no one should confuse 1000 calories delivered in a paper bag in less than 90 seconds with fine dining – if fine dining is called for then Happy ain’t so happy…..)
As an aside, I notice that this article is tagged super zoom and super telephoto. How about a SZST? If Nikon is looking for answers to a struggling legacy camera market, then it’s time to think outside the box. (Surely they are already doing that since conventional wisdom would dictate making cameras that don’t spatter oil…..). Anyway SZST. We live in the land of BIG. What’s bigger than an 800 SZST? Buy one and then throw in a free V1. Now we have BIG and FREE. How can that not work? Give me 50 MP and a 0.0002 km focal length and all my photography problems will be solved!
I had the chance to read this before it was published. Excellent!!! I couldn’t agree with you more regarding the value of a versatile lens – even if it is not perfect. Love your sense of humor and sarcastic wit!
I can’t wait to try the new version on the Burberry Df in Dx mode and pit it against the Hasselblad Lunar with wooly mammoth tusk grip.
No doubt that the new version will be a good match for the Burberry DF, although I am hoping that Nikon will start adding more colors to their lens line-up. The standard black lens is so passe.
The Lunar put quite a bit of pressure on Nikon to up their “style” game. Rumors abound that Nikon’s major R&D efforts are shifting from the introduction of technological and optical improvements to style and coloring. The DF was the first of many stylistic improvements we will see.
Nasim is working on an article, “Can the color of your camera equipment improve your photography?”
Thanks again for submitting this article. I feel the same way about my Nikon 28-300mm as you do regarding the 18-300mm – not perfect but damn useful when you can’t load your entire lens collection in a backpack and/or have time to switch lenses. BTW, I have experimented with different noise and sharpening tools and found that the Topaz Define and InFocus do a great job of improving my 28-300mm’s images, particularly on those taken at the longer focal lengths.
Keep shooting with that “crummy” 18-300mm lens! :)
Which other noise and sharpening tools did you try and how do you feel each compares?
I have the Nik Define, Imagenomics Noiseware and Topaz DeNoise. The Topaz suite of noise reduction and sharpening are tops in my book. The micro contrast tool in InFocus seems to do a great job of exploiting the details while leaving the blurred backgrounds alone.