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Zack - you keep mentioning the 24-70 zoom range, and the price of the Nikon (pro) lens.
You have a couple solid options for less money:
- Nikon 24-85 f/3.5-4.5: Not constant aperture or super-fast, but a very nice lens. AF-S focus speed, VR stabilization, decently sharp and under $700 new. Not nearly as bulky as the pro glass.
- Tamron 28-75 f/2.8: 90% of the Nikon pro glass at 1/5 of the price. Really sharp. Not the low-light performer for AF of the Nikon, but absolutely fine 90%+ of the time. Get the older one without the built-in AF motor as they are generally considered the sharpest. I love mine a lot, and it was $325.
The kit for my D300s looks like this:
Tokina 11-16 ($550 used - probably less now) - awesome wide for broad interiors or landscape
Nikon 18-200 VRII (~$600 used) - Excellent all-around lens, though not fast
Nikon 35 f/1.8 - (~$200 used) - Fast aperture is a lot of fun. Some of my favorite shots have been with this lens. It is pretty close to the "nifty fifty" FOV on a crop sensor.
Tamron 28-75 f/28-75 f/2.8 - My favorite overall lens. Sharp, great color/contrast and a terrific value.
Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 2-ring (~$800 used) - big, heavy, awesome pro glass. I've found it difficult to deal with due to its size and weight, but it is a great lens in the bag.
There is nothing wrong with upgrading to a D300 - I love my D300s a lot. You're going to be a lot happier with your D200 with better glass, and the glass will work on your next body (assuming a DX body for all of those except the Tamron and the 80-200, which will work on FX as well).
I haven't shot with a 17-50 (and Tamron's f/2.8 entry here is also well-liked and affordable). The 17-50 is considered the DX-equivalent of the 24-70 on the DX crop sensor. I find myself constantly using my 28-75 or my 35 1.8. Beyond that the 18-200 probably is the next in line as far as use. I agree with the post above that you should look at what zoom range you're shooting at with your current lens and lean toward the sweet spot of what you're currently shooting.