Hi, lenses are a longer time investment than cameras, IMHO. If I were you I'd try to visualize what I want my camera bag to contain in 2-3 years time and start making the investments gradually. It is cheaper than buying some intermediate lenses and trading them up little by little.
The top end lenses are: - 14-24/2.8 - 24-70/2.8 - 70-200/2.8
I'd start with at least one of these and buy the rest later. With bad lenses your multimegapixel camera only records millions and millions of bad blurry pixels.
This is an open ended question actually, since it's your needs and your money. Ask yourself what you want. Will you have a full-size FX sensor in the future (I will), or will you stay with DX sensors? Do you shoot wide angle or telephoto? The suggestions above may not at all suit you, they were given from my point of view.
>Forget about buying a D80 or D200...there old technology.
It might be worth buying a used D80 if that means getting better lenses first and a D400 (or such) later. If the budget is tight that's a perfectly viable alternative. Even though they are "old" technology, they have still come a long way from the dawn of digital and take really fantastic quality photographs, unlike some of the early high end stuff.
If on the other hand you won't be tempted to upgrade to the D3 or D400 or whatever when the time comes, then it might make better financial sense to pick up the D300.
If I had $3200 this is what I would do for your intended subjects:
It's a little over your budget- you might drop out the prime if it's too much. By skipping the D300 it allows you to get another $1000 good glass, which I think is far more important than the IQ improvements of the D300 over the D80.
Again, just personally speaking, but I would not get rid of the Nikon 50mm 1.8 as it is a truly excellent lens, especially considering the price. You would'nt get much for it if you offloaded it!. This lens really helped me re-discover my enthusiasm for photography, after previously using the 18-70dx lens, which I think is a rubbish lens (although great focal length).
I am looking to get the 24-70mm 2.8, which is supposed to be excellent. Considering you choice of things you want to be shooting I think this would be a worthwhile investment. Other things I would recommend from lessons I have learnt along the way: The best tripod and head you can afford, ensuring you fully consider whether it is the best one for you (height with head, weight etc - low weight is not always best - it depends what you're using it for). Make sure you test the tripod and head together as, as I have learn't - although the tripod might be excellent and the head might be excellent, together they might not work well.
A speedlight is really worthwhile, although you do say that you want natural light portraiture.
Final word - spend a large proportion of your money on the one lens that you will use most (probably a 24-70)and less on one's that you dont use often.
Lately people have been shunning DX lenses even though they own DX bodies. If you plan on using the D300 for a long time, the 17-55 f/2.8 is a fantastic lens and is stunning when paired with the D300. Given that it's considerably less expensive than the 24-70, you might be able to add in some other items in your purchase. The only arguement against the 17-55 is if you plan on switching to FX in the future. Otherwise, it's a top performer.
I agree with Peter in post #2. Buy the best NIKON glass you can afford. Lenses are normally a long term investement and will out live your bodies. I've been considering selling my D2Hs or D200 and getting a D300 but have decided to keep them and add to my decent lens collection by getting some more PRO glass, specifically either the 17-55 or 24-70.
Hedley Originally from Merthyr Tydfil, Wales -- now in Arkansas
I'd say buy the D300 and spend the rest on travel expenses related to your photography interests.
As for the D200 vs. D300, I personally would buy a used D200 and put the $$ I save into glass or travel. The higher iso performance of the D300 is nice but a bit overrated IMO--it's benefit depends a lot on what you like to shoot.
Judging by your post and interest I would think somewhere in the future FF may become a issue, so if I were you I would think 17-35mm F2.8 AFS and 85mm F1.4 AF. Maybe just a tad over your budget but could be found used, with some hunting. Stick with the D300.