Bargain pro camera – FX lenses on DX cameras

Bargain Pro Camera – FX Lenses on DX Cameras

A Guest Post by Douglas Cape

I am often asked for camera recommendations and my standard reply is the Nikon D5500. The later D5600 is basically the same camera with Snapbridge (an app for phones), which I never use. To make this into a “Pro“ camera I suggest attaching some full frame FX lenses, which will give you startling sharpness, very little vignetting and no corner fuzziness. You are just using the best part of the lens, which is basically over-engineered for usage on DX crop sensor cameras. Take a look at nearly all MTF charts and you are avoiding the wavy (not as sharp) part of the graph on the right-hand side, which is the edge of the sensor.

Here is the Nikon MTF Chart for their AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G full frame lens.

On a DX camera you are only using the lens up to the vertical dotted line.

A note about terminology. 

A DX or APS-C camera is a so-called crop sensor camera, meaning the sensor is 1.5x smaller than a full-frame FX camera. The sensor in a full frame camera is 24x36mm, the same as classic 35mm film. Thus on a crop DX camera, the standard 50mm lens becomes a 75mm lens (50×1.5=75), a short telephoto. DX lenses cannot normally be used on full frame FX cameras, the image does not cover the whole sensor. On a DX camera, a standard lens would be a 35mm, giving roughly the same angle of view as a 50mm lens on full frame. The Nikon 18-55mm DX kit lens is equivalent to a 27-82mm full frame lens. 

The sensor in the D5500 is 24.2 mega-pixels, which is the same resolution as many full frame cameras such as the Nikon Z6 or D750 and the Sony A7.

Starsha Lee at Flaxon Ptootch, Kentish Town: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G – 1/250sec, f2.0, ISO3200

My favourite lens combination in this regard is the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G. You might think a full frame lens would be too big on a DX camera, but it fits perfectly in the hand and weighs less (185g) than the 35mm DX f1.8 lens (200g), specifically made for crop sensor cameras. Best of all it does not look like a telephoto lens, has well-recessed glass and focuses down to 0.45m, very good for a 75mm lens. It is no wonder Nikon does not make a DX 50mm lens, it would be pointless to try and improve on this. In crowded social situations, this focal length is ideal for picking out faces in the melee and is several centimeters shorter than the kit zoom lens which is only f5.6 at 50mm. Indoors with average room lighting that will never be fast enough even at ISO 3200, and of course, you lose the 3D effect of an f1.8 lens. 

Spizz Energi at iKlektik, Lambeth: AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G – 1/250sec, f2.0, ISO3200

At events when I am a bit further away I use the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G, which becomes a very fast 130mm lens on DX. This extremely sharp lens sits well on the D5500 and only weighs 350g. Another FX lens I have used extensively is the tiny Fisheye Nikkor 16mm f2.8, which requires manual focusing, but does give a unique picture angle of over 100 degrees. For general travel and video usage, the AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f/4G VR lens is much heavier, but still quite manageable and becomes a powerful 36-180 lens without any FX corner fuzziness. 

John Landor Music in Motion at Conway Hall, Holborn: AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G – 1/125sec, f4.0, ISO3200

To put all this in perspective the D5500 is a remarkably light camera (470g) with an excellent grip. While lacking a few bells and whistles, in particularly a discrete aperture dial, you soon get used to this and I have yet to find something the camera can’t do once you are familiar with the menus. The touch screen is also remarkably useful and can be used to set focus. It competes well with mirrorless cameras, being smaller and much lighter than a Nikon Z6 or Sony A7, and while the Fujifilm X-T30 may be a little smaller it does not have a proper grip and is at least twice the price. I prefer to handhold my camera and do not use a strap, which inevitably gets in the way and makes shooting less flexible. If you really want a light camera, choose a Nikon D3500 which only weighs 365g, the lightest DSLR ever. It is the same basic design as the D5500 with the same sensor, but only 11 AF points, as opposed to 39 on the D5500. I would not recommend it for video since it has no flip out screen or headphone/microphone port. It does represent excellent value, the results for stills should be as good as cameras costing four times as much. 

Irene Serra at Royal Festival Hall, Waterloo: AF-S VR NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G – 1/200sec, f2.8, ISO2500

So to conclude my bargain camera would be a Nikon D5500 with 18-55 kit lens, currently available for £450. If you never use video and want to save more money try a Nikon D3500 with kit lens, about £315. The kit lens is usually heavily subsidised, you might as well purchase it since it is the only way to get a cheap wide angle on DX cameras, and they perform well enough these days. Next stop is the 50mm lens, which you can find for £150, or less second hand. If buying older lenses remember only the post 2000 G or E lenses with no aperture ring will autofocus on these cameras.

All pictures were taken as Raw files and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Here are some more examples of full frame lenses on the D5500:

Trevor Watts at Cafe Oto, Dalston: AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G – 1/2sec, f4.0, ISO200

John Landor Bach Recital at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Charing Cross: AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G – 1/125sec, f4.0, ISO3200

Iain Sinclair at Cafe Oto, Dalston: AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G – 1/200sec, f2.0, ISO3200

Marc Ribot at Cafe Oto, Dalston: AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G – 1/160sec, f1.8, ISO3200

Starsha Lee at Flaxon Ptootch, Kentish Town: AF Fisheye-Nikkor 16mm f2.8D – 1/125sec, f2.8, ISO3200

The Gulps at Flaxon Ptootch, Kentish Town: AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G – 1/200sec, f2.0, ISO3200

All Photographs © Douglas Cape

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