I’m coming at these reviews from a budget-minded (a.k.a. bang-for-the-buck) angle since it’s how I’ve approached my hobby for the last few years. Gear Acquisition Syndrome is something that afflicts any photographer, but when doing it as a hobby and not being able to pour giant amounts of cash into it requires you to weigh your options.
Portraits is a special interest of mine and for that you need a good portrait-lens. A lot of people think a 50/1.8 is a good portrait lens since it has a nice big aperture that can blur the background. While I think a Nifty Fifty has a place in any photographers arsenal, I don’t feel it’s the best lens for portraits. Especially not for shoulder-and-up type portraits. You’ll have to almost literally shove the camera in the subjects face. Add to this that the 50 doesn’t have the right kind of compression for such a shot.
My favorite focal length for people is around the 105mm mark. Nikon made (and continues to make) loads of excellent lenses in that range. If you’re on a budget, picking up a used 105mm/f2.5 lens is recommended.
This is my own manual-focus 105mm lens. It has wildly sharp optics at any aperture, the focal length is perfect for photographing people, and as with all of Nikons lenses from their manual-focus era it was built to last with lots of metal and a sublime feel when focusing. Mine is from the early 1980’s and apart from some cosmetic scratches it’s like new. It also has a neat lens-hood built right in, that can be extended or hidden depending on your own whim.
The downside with getting an old lens like this is the manual-focus. There are several ways around it with a modern camera (using live-view or focus confirmation) but it will take some getting used to. I feel however that it’s nice and slows down the creative process, giving you time to think things through.
I’ve used mine mostly for portraits but it’s a champ at everything where you’d want a short, wickedly sharp prime-tele. There’s also a f1.8 version around, but it costs a buttload more and is way bigger and heavier, as well as much more rare and sought-after. The f2.5-version is everywhere and you can find it for about a hundred bucks or cheaper.
Remember though, this lens is completely manual and depending on your camera-body will present some interesting challenges not only with the manual focus but also the metering and EXIF-branding. No show-stoppers but worth keeping in mind.
I shot thousands of photos with mine and it was only recently replaced by a modern 105mm/f2.8 Micro-Nikkor VR.
There, now go get one. Right now. Off your ass and go!