Topic: The best lenses for your DSLR
There has been a lot of talk lately about using vintage Russian lenses for animation, and while these lenses are neat, and create a unique visual style I do not believe they are ideal, or even practical for most stop motion applications. However vintage lenses are great for animation if you get the right ones, the question is which lenses are best.
It is pretty much agreed that vintage Nikkor lenses are the best option for stop motion, it's what most of the professional stop motion animators use and the lenses are widely available and are much cheaper then modern prime lenses. When you look for stop motion lenses you don't need to worry about getting really fast lenses (those cost more anyway) the two things I look for (apart from optical excellence of course) is a short minimum focal distance and the ability to stop down to f/22. It's easy to get to much bokah when photographing stuff at minifig scale, so I often find my self at f/8 - f/16, and sometimes even f/22 when I am using extension rings or want deep focus.
You can pretty much do anything you need with these three lenses:
Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 Very useful, runs for $45-$90 on Ebay, you need to own this lens! With a minimum focal length of 9.5 inches it is a VERY useful lens, you will likely use it more then any other lens.
Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 Very useful, trending on Ebay at $92 just make sure to get the AI or AI-s version that can stop down to f/22
Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 Somewhat useful, the AI-s versions tend to run from $120 - $200 on Ebay, I have a non-AI version that only stops down to f/16 and am a bit disapointed in it, don't settle for a non-AI version and save up some extra cash and get an AI-s version. Really you could fill this slot with any lens from 18mm to 28mm, you will sometimes want a wider lens then your 35mm, but whatever you fill this spot with will likely be your least used lens, keep in mind the wider then lens, the worse it will play with extension tubes.
In addition to those three lenses you will want a set of extension tubes, lost of folks use these, I don't own them, but I hear the quality is alright, nothing amazing. I have a very nice set of the Nikon PK-1,2 & 3 which are no longer made and cost far more, I had no idea off brands existed when I picked them up, live and learn, although the build quality of the Nikon tubes is impeccable. You will use them to further decrease your minimum focal distance, I find the longer your lens is the better they play with the extension tubes. I find that on lenses 24mm and shorter they are more or less unusable. As you add more tubes to a lens your depth of field will decrease, this is why you should only buy lenses you can stop down to f/22 (or ideally f/32)
If you are using a Canon EOS body you will need an adapter to use Nikkor lenses, I have a cheap $30 apaptor which has a slight jiggle which is mostly un-problematic, if you want a nicer adapter Dragonframe recommends Fotodiox Pro Lens Mount Adapter, which I have not used.
If you are using a Nikon camera you may want to half unscrew the lens when you animate, this will stop the camera from opening the aperture every frame and will eliminate light flicker from inconsistent aperture.
Now that I have given you my recommendations I will review all 8 vintage Nikkor lenses I own and rate the usefulness of each one for stop motion along with an image taken with that lens at it's minimum focal distance. All photos were taken at f/5.6 1/5s shutter speed at 400 ISO on my Canon SL1.
Nikkor 18mm f/4: Too expensive and specialized for most animators The 18mm f/4 is optically one of my best lenses and can be used for some specialized situations to great effect, however these tend to be few and far between, on top of that this lens is expensive, I can't find any on Ebay now but last I saw they were running about $400+ used so I wouldn't really recommend it, but if you have the money (and a full frame camera) go for it, it's sort of wasted on an APS-C sensor.
Nikkon 24mm f/2.8 non-AI: Get the AI-s version, it will be less used but in regular rotation The 24mm f/2.8 is a reasonably useful wide(ish) lens for stop-mo, my non-AI version's range is f/2.8 to f/16, ideally you want lenses that go to at least f/22, and there are 24mm AI Nikkors that range from f/2.8-f/22 you should spend the extra money on one of those rather then saving on a cheaper non-AI like I did. The AI-s versions tend to run from $120 - $200 on Ebay
Nikkor 35mm f/2.8: Very useful will be in regular rotation This should be the second lens you get. Plays alright with extension tubes for more options. Trending on Ebay at $92
Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 (Nifty Fifty) Poor choice for stop motion, mostly useless It has a really long minimum focal distance, this would be great for live action video as it is fast and cheap. Anything it can do in stop motion the 55mm Micro can do better.
Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 Short min focus distance and cheap! Great optics too! With a minimum focal length of 9.5 inches it is a VERY useful lens, you will likely use it more then any other lens. Runs for $45-$90 on Ebay, you need to own this lens!
Nikkor 105mm f/2.5: Spend some extra cash on a micro version, but I use it quite a bit If you are interested in telephoto having a 105mm will be great and cover most of your telephoto needs for LEGO, just don't save money getting a non-micro version like I did, a micro version will be way more versatile, but even non-micro plays great with extension tubes. Micro version trending at $280, but I've seen them go for as low as $200
Nikkor 135mm f/2.8: The 105mm micro invalidates this lens, poorish minimum focal lenth If you really like telephoto lenses these are cheap! Tend to run from $40 - $100 on Ebay I feel like my 135mm has better color then my 105mm f/2 for what it's worth. I love how much throw the focus ring has.
Nikkor 300mm f/4.5: Costly, rare, with min focal distance of 8 feet This is a lens my dad found in a box at the school he works and and gave it to me for free, after looking it up it seems to run about $400+ used, but I can't find any on Ebay now. This lens has a STUPID long focal length which is not useful for much, I like using it to shoot miniatures so they look very far away, however with a minimum focal distance of 8 feet it will be unusable for may LEGO animators, that on top of the price make it impossible for me to recommend to animators. However the optics are wonderful and photographers and videographers would love it. (fun fact this lens was used while filming Bricks In Motion: The Documentary)