DX lenses on a Nikon D800E

No you're not imagining things, that is a Nikon 55-200mm F/4-5.6 AF-S VR DX sitting on the front of my D800E, bought from Amazon for the princely sum of £110 and yes that is going to be the telephoto zoom option for my 36MP high resolution monster. 

'Is he mad?'  'Well maybe but he's done it before.'

I did wander around quite happily using one of these lenses on my Nikon D3X for quite some time. I was of course soundly rubbished by lots of Nikon fans who thought I was crazy and inept or probably both.

However this is because of the little-known 'secret' of some (not all) Nikon DX lenses, that they do in fact work very well on 35mm sized sensors when you know what to do, and this is not restricted to DX mode.

Current Nikon 35mm sensor cameras have four options for the crop mode that you can select.

FX - which is the whole frame.
DX which is a 1.5x APS-C crop mode, for DX lenses obviously.

And two more. Which at first glance might seem a little odd.

The third is is a 1.2x crop mode and the fourth is a 5:4 ratio crop mode.

Below shows what happens when I use the 55-200mm on each of these settings.

Notice anything odd? As you can see the 1.2x crop appears to have no vignetting at all and the 5:4 crop very little. You will also notice that the FX - no crop image has probably less vignetting than you might have expected. As far as I'm aware this is because certain Nikon DX lenses, and I believe that its not all of them by any means, cover more of an APS-C sensor than they really need to. I've never found out why, but it is very useful.

Now with a little work, its not just the 1.2x crop that can produce non-vignetting images. Just by dialling in the lens profile and pushing the vignetting slider to the right for the 5:4 crop, I get this.

No post-processing needed, this is a preset I have in ACR. So it takes me no time at all.

By using the same preset and doing a little post-production work in Photoshop, using cloning or content-aware I can even get a non-vignetting file from the FX crop.

All above images were taken at 55mm and f/8. But it works at the 200mm end as well, See below.

So what does this all mean? This is just some cheap and cheerful kit zoom after all, isn't it? Well following my usual practice of quoting Ken Rockwell when he agrees with me and having a pop at him when he doesn't (I never claimed to be fair!) some quotes from his review of the lens.

'The Nikon 55-200mm VR is a superb lightweight, plastic-mount lens with outstanding performance.'

'So long as you're careful not to break the plastic lens mount, this is an extraordinary lens in every way.'

'The Nikon 55-200mm VR is very inexpensive. It's the telephoto lens bargain of the decade at only about $230.'

'Sharpness and performance are extraordinary. A lens this inexpensive never used to have the right to be this embarrassingly good' 

I put these in because I think exactly the same. Compared to anything else in the same range this is a very good lens. When you factor in the price it is as Ken says, pretty much the bargain of the decade. So you get a light, cheap lens capable of great results. No the build quality isn't great, but as Ken says in another part of his review, at this price if it breaks just buy another one. And that of course is one of the reasons its so cheap. Just like the 50mm f/1.8 its not the most well-constructed, but and its a big BUT, Nikon make an lot of these, and they sell a lot as well, so thats why its cheap. When I bought mine on Amazon they had 60 in stock currently, so you can see that they are expecting to sell a lot too.

Now I've been selling shots taken with previous versions of the lens I have owned for years, shot on a D3X. Plus its easily sharp enough to do justice to the D800E sensor. Below is a 100% crop of the FX files, and I don't see much to complain about there.

So there it is, Nikons little DX secret. Another lens that works like this is the excellent 35mm f/1.8. I've also got one of those coming as well. But be warned, its not all DX lenses. Forget the idea of doing this with an 18-55mm zoom for example. But with the two lenses I've mentioned it does work very well.

So for £260, I've got two lenses that are light and inexpensive and will give me an 86MB file, which is just under 30MP. So I lose a bit of the D800E's sensor capability, but as far as I'm concerned the advantages far outweigh that. Add in my 50mm f/1.8 and the 12-24mm I've just bought and I have an amazingly versatile lens collection for significantly less than £1000. In terms of Nikon bragging rights, non-existent, but for someone who is required to be somewhat circumspect about my current purchases, a good deal all round.

So mad? crazy? Well maybe not so much as you might think.

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.  

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