Beginner NIKON D3500 - Zoom Lens advice please

damon palmer
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hello, just looking for advice please for our daughter, as we know nothing about photography and it’s all a bit minefield out there to us, sorry!
Our daughter is 15yrs old and just getting into photography.
We have recently bought her a Nikon D3500 dslr camera as advised by the online photography course she has just started.
It came with a standard type lens, which is fine, but she now needs a zoom lens for the next part of the course she’s taking.
We've been advised to get a 70-300mm zoom lens, but it’s hard (for us anyway) to understand what is compatible with her camera and why the prices seem to vary from anywhere between £80 and £500!
Some seem to be a different brand, but still compatible with Nikon. Some seem to be the actual Nikon brand, not really sure how this all works to be completely honest!
Dont really have the money to splash out on the top end lens, but equally don’t want to buy something cheap and nasty and not really up to the job!
But we are also very mindful that our daughter is only 15yrs old, just starting out with her new photography hobby and most likely doesn't really need equipment usually required by professionals and experts.
Any helpful advice please would be humbly appreciated to these completely novice parents, who are willing to learn!
Thank-you in advance


Uh oh, a fruit basket!
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Welcome Damon - I assume your daughter has the 18-55 kit lens which is perfectly good.

What has she be asked to shoot that requires a 70-300 ? If it’s a course, it would seem to be quite a major outlay of funds for perhaps a brief usage ? You could hire a lens maybe ? would be a good start

Of course, everything depends on how far your daughter wants to progress but time will tell
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Don't confuse 'zoom' with 'Telephoto'.

The focal length of a lens is usually quoted in mm. On a 'crop-sensor' DSLR 35mm is the 'Normal Angle' lens length, ie neither wide angle nor telephoto.
- Anything shorter, say a 15mm lens would be 'wide angle'.
- Anything longer, say a 100mm lens would be a 'telephoto'.

A 'Zoom' lens is merely one that has a variable focal length... it can be either wide-angle OR telephoto, and frequently is both... eg the standard 18-55mm variable focal length 'zoom' lens that normally comes with entry level DSLR's in the 'kit'... so she likely already has a 'zoom' lens, and one that is both a 'wide angle' at the 18mm setting, a "telephoto" at the 55mm setting and a 'normal angle' at the 35mm setting....

Oh-Kay.... I say get this clear cos it IS sort of a bit fundamental.

I have a bag load of 'prime' lenses, that is to say they are 'non' zoom lenses; they each have a fixed focal length, and most belong to one of my old film cameras; But, the bag has lenses from 12mm focal length up to 300mm focal length; they don't 'zoom', but the longer ones, particular on an adapter on the DSLR are 'Telephoto'.

I suspect... what she wants is a longer 'Telephoto' lens, not necessarily a 'zoom' lens, which as said, she likely already had in the 18-55mm 'Kit' lens that likely came with the camera.

So how 'long' does she need/want in the telephoto range?

The Nikon 'kits' at the budget end used to often contain two lenses; the standard 18-55mm 'normal' zoom, and either the 55-200, telephoto zoom, or the later 55-300mm telephoto zoom. Both lenses, new are sub £200 at last look, the 55-200 often available for around £100 or so, new, and both cheaper still 2nd hand.
Of the two, the 55-200 is a very good VFM lens, the 55-300 offers that much more 'zoom' or 'reach' and is more expensive for it; but both still pretty cheap lenses, and genuine Nikon/Nikkor. Either would probably be good enough and do the job.. and if she really needs bigger, better, faster, more... then that's an upgrade for next time about... either lens can be sold on for no great loss, especially of bought 2nd hand to start with.

70-200 or 70-300, is a zoom range more suited to 'Full-Frame' sensor or film cameras. As such, the disparity in prices can be even greater, because the lenses for older film cameras will be manual focus only and likely 2nd hand and 20+ years old to start with, or they will be brand new all electric auto-focus lenses intended for modern, professional grade, Auto-Focus, 'Full-Frame' DSLR's.

Here Nikon have, for 60 odd years, made a sales pitch based on maintaining the compatibility of their 'F-Mount' lenses, so there are a HECK of a lot of lenses out there that could be fitted to this camera, good, bad and ugly, from Nikon themselves and any of the 3rd party independents like Sigma or Tameron or many others... how good they may or may not be probably varies as much as price and the two are only notionally related!

So, to return to the Nikon AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED... 55-200 is the zoom-range of focal lengths. AF-S means its an auto-focus lens with in-lens focus motor the D3500 needs as it doesn't have an in-body fous motor. f/4-5.6 is the maximum aperture; It has two numbers, because the f-no is a ratio of the hole, (Aperture!) diameter to the focal length; so if the focal length changes with 'Zoom' so does the ratio to the hole diameter; so f4 is the max aperture at the short, 55mm focal length setting, f5.6 is the max aperture at the long/telephoto, 200mm focal length setting.

The Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR, pretty ,much the same deal, only it has an extra 50% more 'zoom'. The VR, by the way, stands for 'Vibration Reduction' and both come in either VR or imroved VRII versions.. at extra cost, IF you deem VR essential or worth-while.. personally I don't, much, but still,

The 55-200, new is priced around £100 or so; the 55-300, new around £200, so twice the price, which is why I say that the 55-200 is cracking VFM.

Personally I have the 55-300.. and that extra 100mm of 'zoom' REALLY don't get a lot of use, and isn't worth the extra to my mind. Its also not a great lens, but it engineered to an optimal 'acceptable quality level' and for a beginner on a beginners camera, that is probably more than good enough. The 55-200 is likewise not a great lens, but it is about as good, and for half the money!

As mentioned I have a bag of primes for old film cameras I can fit to the Electric-Picture-Maker via an adapter. Taking back-to back comparison shots with some of these has shown just how much the image quality of the Nikkor 'Kit' lenses has been sacrificed for cost and coverage... but unless you have £1000's to spend on alternative lenses and do back-to back comparisons.. you would never know!!! and them kit lenses, as said are more than good enough to be getting on with!

SO, my recommends would have to be the 55-200, for around £100, its a lot of 'telephoto' zoom... to suck it and see, and IF it aint enough, either a fast enough f-number, or a long enough focal length or whatever.... well, its a start, chop it in for something bigger better faster more when better clued up as to what more is more important.

FWIW, my daughter is now at Uni studying Photography; she started out with a Nikon D3100, and an AF-S 35mm 'prime' lens. She had, for GCSE and A-Level photo, little cause to use a telephoto, at all... and still doesn't, but when she did, she rarely needed more than 150mm, and frequently, for the magnification and IQ, often stole my old 135mm 'prime' for film camera... so don't be hung up on the idea you have to get as much 'zoom' as you can; as said, that 55-200 will likely be more than up to the task for a long while, and it be cheap!
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If your daughter has been asked to get a 70-300mm lens then I guess that is what you need to get. Nikon, Tamron and Sigma all make 70-300mm lenses which would suit. The leading question to ask for all 3 is 'will it autofocus on the D3500?' (answer needs to be yes) and also for the other two makes, 'is it Nikon fit?'. I would suggest that you look at second hand lenses. Lots of photographers buy second hand so it is common. Personally, as you know little about photography yourself, I would throw myself at the mercy of a couple of the companies who sell second hand gear (MPB and Grays of Westminster are two, there are more), give them a ring, state what your daughter needs, what her camera is, the autofocus question, and see what they have in stock and/or what they suggest. That way you will save a lot of time and not have to fill your head with stuff you will never need to know.
Let us know how you get on. And good luck to your daughter on her course - I hope she enjoys it.