Budget-Friendly Lenses

For My Wild Horse Analog Film Photography

Don't let the "budget-friendly" heading throw you off and be associated with cheap.  The lenses I use are exceptional and perform well for my wild horse photography. 

The cameras and lenses that I share with you in this article are the photography gear I use to create my wild horse fine art images. 

I use my Nikon F6 as my primary wild horse camera and another F6 or F100 as my second camera. 

I will usually keep the Tamron 100-400mm zoom on my primary camera and another F6 or my F100 and a wider or prime lens on the second camera.  The Tamron 100-400 lens was a huge surprise because I have not typically found third-party zoom lenses to perform well historically.  In this case, this lens is a clear exception. 

I also keep my Nikon D4S (2014-2016) DSLR handy if I run out of film in the field or hit the ceiling with the available light.  I also use this camera for general everyday photography that doesn't require film. I use film because I love the workflow and the handmade silver gelatin prints I make in the darkroom.

The D4S is blazing fast, has impressive autofocus, and produces small file sizes. I can quickly increase resolution using ACR/Photoshop and Topaz Gigapixel if needed. 

Photographing wild horses is a tricky subject to discuss because there are many variables involved in helping determine the right gear. 

Everything from personal style and creative vision to the available light and temperament of the wild horses and their geography. 

I am basing my primary lens choices on the Shawnee Creek herd because I photograph them the most, and the other three packs are much more challenging to locate and highly unpredictable.

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THE LENS SELECTION QUANDARY

Nikon F6 with Tim Layton - www.timlaytonfineart.comNikon F6 with Tim Layton - www.timlaytonfineart.com Using faster lenses (e.g., F2.8, F2, F1.8, etc.) isn't just about getting great bokeh.  While I love to separate my subjects from their backgrounds, I need the extra light from faster lenses, especially F2.8 or faster. 

I am routinely photographing the horses in the good morning and evening light, pushing the boundaries of what I can do with analog black and white film. 

I am limited to EI 800 with standard developing techniques without using advanced techniques like stand or semi-stand development because this is the cut-off for my quality standards. For example, in morning/evening light at EI 800 with an F5.6 lens, that only gives me a shutter speed of 1/80 or maybe 1/125. Unless the horses are standing still, I don't have many options. 

Now assume I was using an F2.8 lens, which gives me two additional stops, and now all of a sudden, I am in the 1/320+ range, which can make a world of difference in terms of sharpness.  Then, assume I am using a 200mm F2 lens, which is another full stop faster than an F2.8 lens, and now I can either reduce my EI rating to 400 or take advantage of much faster shutter speeds in the 1/640 range. 

If I am working on an overcast day with an F2 or F2.8 lens, I can get a sharp exposure of running horses in the 1/1250 to 1/1500 range.  To make that image work, I need to be at EI 800 and parallel to the horses.  I can get very sharp images of the horses running wide open with good-quality glass.  If I wanted to photograph a horse running towards me, I needed to stop down to at least F5.6 and sometimes F8 to get their eyes, ears, and face sharp. 

I use some advanced stand and semi-stand development techniques to use much faster EI ratings from EI 1600 up to EI 6400.   

As you can see, it is a balancing act in the field based on the current conditions and the activity of the wild horses.

Let's Stay Connected!

Join Tim Layton on YouTubeJoin Tim Layton on YouTube Join me on my mission to show the world America’s wild horses, so they can remain free and wild forever.

Get my Free Wild Horse Journal and receive my latest updates about the Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri delivered directly to your email. 

Watch my latest videos on my YouTube Channel where I take you behind the scenes as I track the wild horses, photograph and video them, and then return to the darkroom and make my Tim Layton Fine Art handmade wild horse prints.

View my latest Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri Fine Art Prints in my online gallery

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Tim Layton with Nikon F6 Film SLR - www.timlaytonfineart.comTim Layton with Nikon F6 Film SLR - www.timlaytonfineart.com My four core lenses listed below cost me a total of $2230.  This is less than the cost of a single 70-200 lens! 

In comparison, if you were to buy a new Z9 with similar lenses and required accessories, you would spend over $15,000.00. 

Even if you swap out the 300mm F4 ($680) for the premium 300mm F2.8 ($2610), you are only looking at $4160 vs. $15,000, which is 27% of the more significant investment.

Yes, they are not the same systems and not capable of the same things. 

The F6 with the 300mm F2.8 prime produces real film negative, and any digital camera, DSLR, or mirrorless system can't do that. 

Bottom line, if you want to make handmade silver gelatin or other alternative prints using real film negatives, this is the way to go. It is a heck of a lot more satisfying and substantially less expensive.  Plus, you don't have to fill up your hard drive on your expensive computer system with images that will never get printed. 

In the end, there are no right or wrong choices, just your path that meets your creative vision.  

I should note that I am testing stand development options at EI 3200 and EI 6400 to see if I can find a reliable and repeatable process that meets my creative vision with the wild horses.  EI 3200 and EI 6400 can open up more lens choices, such as F5.6 lenses, versus always needing faster glass.  Keep in mind your prints only need to meet your creative goals and no one else.  If you love it, keep doing it.  

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Tamron 100-400mm F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens

The most used lens on my F6 and D4S For Wild Horse Photography

$509 used at A

Lenscoat Available

Dimensions: 3.4 x 7.7" (86.2 x 195.6mm)

Filter: 67mm

Weight: 1114g/2.45 lbs

IS: 4 stops of VR

Why this lens?

I have learned over time that the 100-400 zoom range is ideal for my style of wild horse photography. If I were forced to only pick one lens for my style of wild horse photography, it would be this lens because of its versatility and performance. 

This specific lens is an incredible value for the price.  I paid $509 for mine, and it was in like-new condition.  That is a great value, in my opinion. 

It is two times smaller and lighter than alternatives like the Nikon 200-500mm F5.6 zoom lens.

I think this lens performs much better than the Nikon 80-400 F4.5/5.6 lens, and it is multiple times cheaper. 

The sharpness is fantastic, and it focuses fast.  I wish it were an F4-F5.6 lens, but the extra 1/3 stop F4.5-F6.3 is not a practical issue to be concerned about. 

I think this may be the one exception for third-party lenses that is a better alternative than the manufacturer glass.  

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Nikon Nikkor AF-S 300mm F/4D ED Autofocus IF Lens

I own this lens, and I purchased it for $680 (K)

Lenscoat Available

1001265130

Weight: 1440g/3.17 lbs

Why this lens? 

It is an incredible value for the price.  Nikon does not build lenses like this anymore.  It is literally all-metal construction with an integrated lens hood.  It will last several lifetimes. 

To go to a 300mm F2.8G ED-IF AF-S lens, the cost skyrockets from $3300 to $4500, and to get a G ED VR version, the price is in the $5400 range.  Those lenses are not optically superior to this lens, meaning they do not produce " better " images for my wild horse photography. 

This lens is substantially smaller and lighter than any F2.8 lens by a considerable margin. The ability to run and gun in the field at the speed of wild horses can be exhausting at times and this smaller and lighter lens is worth the 1 stop of the trade-off between F2.8 and F4.  

This is a good lens for wild horse portraits, and I can use a 1.4TC to make it a 420mm F5.6 lens if desired. I keep the 1.4TC in my field pack with me at all times in case I need it and it works perfectly with this lens making it a 420mm F5.6. 

Nikon Product Page

Challenges/Downsides?

The only downside to this lens is the F4 aperture.  During early morning/evening light, T-Max rated at EI 800 at F4 will produce shutter speeds in the 1/180 to 1/250 range.  This is okay for still shots, but this could not work for horses on the move.  I need to keep the EI rating to 800 max to maintain my quality standards.  In normal lighting conditions and even on overcast/cloudy days, the F4 aperture and resulting shutter speed are typically acceptable.  I willingly accept the tradeoff and challenges between this lens and any F2.8 version. 

Let's Stay Connected!

Join Tim Layton on YouTubeJoin Tim Layton on YouTube Join me on my mission to show the world America’s wild horses, so they can remain free and wild forever.

Get my Free Wild Horse Journal and receive my latest updates about the Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri delivered directly to your email. 

Watch my latest videos on my YouTube Channel where I take you behind the scenes as I track the wild horses, photograph and video them, and then return to the darkroom and make my Tim Layton Fine Art handmade wild horse prints.

View my latest Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri Fine Art Prints in my online gallery

Join me and wild horse supporters from around the world in my Facebook Group - Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri.


Nikon Nikkor AF-S 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6G ED VR IF Lens

I own this lens, and I purchased it for $340 (E)

030422

Lenscoat Available

Weight: 745g/1.64 lbs

Why this lens? 

This is the perfect lens if I need maximum portability in a lightweight kit.

It is a fantastic value for only $300!  I spent more on a lens coat and replacement foot accessories for my prime lenses than I did for this lens!

It is sharp, focuses fast, and no one remembers this lens, which is why it is so cheap.  

I also use this for my general walking around lens when hiking too.  

The performance of this lens compared to the used price makes this lens a no-brainer to keep in my bag, even if I rarely use it.  I like to remove the battery grip on the F6 and use this lens for a very small and lightweight option.  It feels like I am holding air compared to my normal setup.

Nikon Product Page

Challenges/Downsides?

Only one.  The variable F4.5/5.6 aperture.  But the tradeoff for its small size and weight is irreplaceable when you need it.  For only $300, it is silly not to have the option in your camera bag.  

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Nikon Nikkor 135mm F2 DC AF Lens

I own this lens, and I purchased it for $900 (K)

1001265325

Weight: 815g/1.8 lbs.

Why this lens?

This lens is one stop faster than F2.8 and two stops faster than F4 (incredible in lower light).  That is a big deal in certain conditions. 

The added benefit of the DC (enhanced bokeh) is unique and a big help for my style.  This option is literally not available in any other lenses.  

I found this focal length to be versatile (group environmental images, full-body, close-up portraits).  Also, on rare occasions when I can get reasonably close to the wild horses, this lens at F2 can produce very dramatic portraits by having the horses face tack sharp and the background looks like a painting. 

Nikon Product Page

Challenges/Downsides?

There aren't any significant concerns with this lens other than the AF is slower than modern lenses and it is a speciality lens in my opinion.  In comparison to the cost of other lenses that I have, I think of this as a splurge and optional choice.

This is sort of a specialty lens that is great to have if you can afford to keep it in your bag.  I don't see this lens as a daily driver for my wild horse photography, but it can give me images that I can't get with any other lens, which is why I have it.  Being able to create unique images in a competitive world outweighs the cost of the lens.  In comparison to current modern lenses, the cost is substantially lower.  

Let's Stay Connected!

Join Tim Layton on YouTubeJoin Tim Layton on YouTube Join me on my mission to show the world America’s wild horses, so they can remain free and wild forever.

Get my Free Wild Horse Journal and receive my latest updates about the Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri delivered directly to your email. 

Watch my latest videos on my YouTube Channel where I take you behind the scenes as I track the wild horses, photograph and video them, and then return to the darkroom and make my Tim Layton Fine Art handmade wild horse prints.

View my latest Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri Fine Art Prints in my online gallery

Join me and wild horse supporters from around the world in my Facebook Group - Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri.


Nikon Nikkor 180mm F/2.8 ED IF AF Lens

I own this lens, and I purchased it for $450 (K)

Lenscoat NOT Available in Realtree Max 4

1001265325

Why this lens?

The fast F2.8 aperture is very good in low light and a prime lens like this is always going to be sharper than a zoom lens like a 70-200 or 80-200.  

The sharpness of this lens wide open is mind blowing and this is one of the primary reasons I use it for my wild horse photography. 

This fixed focal length can be suitable for small groups, big environmental scenes, and full-body portraits.

Nikon Product Page

Challenges/Downsides?

180mm can be an excellent focal length for horses.  You are trading the zoom lens flexibility for the fast F2.8 aperture.  I have to work harder for getting a variety of compositions with this lens, but in the end, it is worth it. 

Any prime lens will be sharper and produce better bokeh, especially the longer focal lengths.  The downside to fast prime lenses is you need to move your body around to create different compositions.  This can be challenging or cause loss of opportunity with wild horses. 

When using my 100-400mm zoom, I make a much wider variety of images, but I am sacrificing the fast F2.8 aperture and background bokeh if I can't position the horses a good distance from their backgrounds. 

If I am in good light, I use the 100-400mm zoom lens most of the time because of the flexibility. Everything in photography is a trade-off that only you can determine what is best for you.

Free Wild Horse Journal by Tim LaytonFree Wild Horse Journal by Tim Layton
 


Nikon Nikkor AF-S 50mm F1.4D Lens

I own this lens, and I purchased it for $200 (A)

A2022030315292008767

Why this lens?

The 50mm lens provides a "normal view" and is incredible for low-light environmental images.  The 50mm focal length in 35mm photography is classic for a reason. 

The cost of this lens used is almost silly.  Even though I rarely get the chance to use it, I like knowing I have the option in my backpack at this incredible price. 

It is 2X faster than the F2.8 lens and one stop faster than an F2 lens. Wow!

Very good in early morning and evening lower light conditions.

Good focal length for groups and environmental images.

Nikon Product Page

Challenges/Downsides?

It is rare that I can use this lens, but when the opportunity does arise, it is incredible.


FUTURE LENSES UNDER REVIEW


Nikon Nikkor AF-S 600mm f/4D II ED IF

AF is just as fast on these older lenses and just as sharp.

Build quality is better on these older lenses too.  They are built like tanks and equally as heavy as the more modern lenses.  Any 600mm F4 lens is big, heavy, and a big commitment.  

$4500 for a mint condition version from an authorized Nikon reseller

Weight: 10.5 lbs

Discussion about this lens at Steve Perry's Forum.


Nikon AF-S Nikkor 300mm F2.8D II IF
1997-2020

$2610 at K

Nikon AF-S Nikkor ED 300mm F/2.8D II IF (name on the manual)
 Integrated Tripod Collar/Foot

MFD: 7.5 ft.
Weight: 2560g/5.5 lbs
Front Filter: N/A
** Teleconverters can be used with this lens (i.e., TC-1.4, TC-1.7, TC-2.0)

Nikon Product Page

Nikon Product Manual

The Nikon AF-S Nikkor ED 300mm F2.8D II IF lens creates the sharpest and most beautiful bokeh you can imagine.  No lens today can beat this 20-year-old lens, in my opinion. It is a fantastic value compared to the cost of lenses today, and there are no downsides for my style of photography. 

Don't Buy the AF-I version because parts are no longer available (https://youtu.be/o1Mt8ynaLBM)

This lens has no visible distortion, wide open or otherwise. It is optically brilliant. 

This AF-S II version is the lightest autofocus 300/2.8 ever made by Nikon, and no Nikon 300/2.8 focuses closer (2.3m)

You can grab the focus ring for an instant manual-focus override in M/A mode or lock it into manual-only (M) or Auto-only (A) modes.

Any 300/2.8 is sharper and can throw backgrounds out of focus better than any 70-200/2.8 zoom and this is why I use it.  It is my default lens for my wild horse photography.

I used to own the 400mm F2.8 lens, but I got rid of it because it is so much bigger and heavier and the difference between 300mm and 400mm isn't as much as you think in your mind.  I can easily crop my 300mm images when printing in the darkroom and you would never know if it was a 300mm or 400mm based image.  I simply just crop while I am printing in the darkroom with my enlarger making prints or my 8x10 copy negatives


Nikon AF 80-200mm F2.8D ED Macro
1997-2020
 Integrated Tripod Collar/Foot

MFD: 5 feet (1.5 m)
Weight: 2.875 lbs. 
Filter: 77mm
** Teleconverters cannot be used with this lens


Unlike most of Nikon's lenses today, this lens is made almost entirely of metal and is precision made in Japan. This lens is designed to take a beating, and keep on cranking out brilliant images.

This lens is entirely mechanical.  There are no delicate VR or AF-S mechanisms to break 10 or 20 years from now, so this lens should last a lifetime without issue. 

This lens takes the same pictures, is smaller, lighter, and a fraction of the price of the newer 70-200/2.8 VR II and E FL versions.


Let's Stay Connected!

Join Tim Layton on YouTubeJoin Tim Layton on YouTube Join me on my mission to show the world America’s wild horses, so they can remain free and wild forever.

Get my Free Wild Horse Journal and receive my latest updates about the Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri delivered directly to your email. 

Watch my latest videos on my YouTube Channel where I take you behind the scenes as I track the wild horses, photograph and video them, and then return to the darkroom and make my Tim Layton Fine Art handmade wild horse prints.

View my latest Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri Fine Art Prints in my online gallery

Join me and wild horse supporters from around the world in my Facebook Group - Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri.

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