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D800 Lens Selection

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The D800 accepts any F-mount lens, and for any decent lens, you'll get better resolution with the D800 than you could with a lesser camera. So answer #1 to the question "What lens can I use?" is any lens you please and it will resolve better on the D800 than on your previous camera.

The D800's ultra-high resolution sensor can provide amazing detail. Not every lens (in fact, not most lenses) are going to be able to give you the maximum resolution the camera is capable of.  This list isn't about great lenses, it's about what lenses can wring the most resolution out of a D800 when you need every ounce of resolution. Maybe you have a two page magazine spread to shoot, or more likely you just want to post your pics on a Canon forum to rile everyone up.

Even with a great lens, you'll almost certainly need to shoot that lens with the aperture closed down one or two stops from maximum aperture. Most do better with 2 stops. But diffraction softening is clearly present at f/8 so do not stop down past f/8. But again, that's for people who want to wring every bit of resolution out of the camera. Very few will need to do that most of the time.

We're testing lenses on D800s as fast as we can, we've got literally dozens of "please test this lens requests". Now that we have more cameras and more time, we've been able to be more thorough. Every lens with resolution numbers below has been tested with more than on copy on more than one camera. If we've tested it, it's on this page. Also on this page are some that we haven't tested, but that we are comfortable will work well and deliver high resolution images.

I've taken down the recommended / not recommended remarks by the various lenses: to be honest I'm pretty sick of people who don't read the disclaimers and then go waste an hour of time talking about what a great lens I haven't recommended. So we'll be more subtle: if I haven't linked to our web page for the lens in question, I'd really rather you don't rent that lens for use on the D800. You'll probably end up unhappy.

Finally, for those who want to know how the 18-55 kit lens, Quantary 70-300, etc. will perform I'm just going to leave my remarks at "Really???". Check out the Nikon 28-300 or 24-120 lenses below. Those two are really quite good lenses, far better than kit lenses, almost all third party lenses, etc. and they can't approach maximum resolution with the D800.

This page was last updated May 4th. Today's editions are the two wide-angle lenses most requested: the Zeiss 21mm and the Nikon 24mm PC-E. The Zeiss lived up to it's reputation of being nearly as sharp wide open as stopped down, one of the only lenses that has done that on the D800. The PC-E didn't do as well. Everyone wished it had, it would be a great wide solution, but I can't say I'm surprised. We've never found it quite as sharp as the 45mm and 85mm versions. This will also be the last update, at least for quite a while. I've got other things I have to put ahead of this for now.

I also was able to grab a D800E long enough to test it at one focal length: since 100mm was set up, I tested the Zeiss 100 Makro planar.

There was, if anything, a bigger difference than I thought. On the D800 the lens had a maximum center / average resolution of 1091 / 1030. On the 800E it was 1250 / 1120. Now let me state I have no idea how much the AA filter is expected to effect MTF 50 resolution, but the difference surprised me. Let me emphasize this was one quick test with a couple of copies of the lens on one D800E body. Let's wait until professional reviewers have more time with the D800E to see if there is that big a difference in real-world photography, and with other lenses.

With that said, we've tested the following lenses:

Zeiss:

Nikon Primes

Nikon Zooms

Nikon Supertelephoto

 

177 Responses to “D800 Lens Selection”

Daniel Browning said:

Since I'm new to Nikon lenses, I'm glad to see most of the lenses I picked in your list. I went with these for my new D800:

* 14-24 f/2.8
* 35mm f/1.4G
* 55mm f/2.8
* Sigma 85mm f/1.4

That last one is mostly because it is reported to have faster autofocus than the Nikon version, with similar level optical aberrations. Here's to hoping I can dial in some AF adjustment and get consistent AF results. :)

Tim Harris said:

Thanks so much for the info LR!

I know the Nikon Micro 105mm f/2.8G VR prime has been around for quite some time now but I'm really hoping it will fit within the range of good quality (at least as good as the 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII. If you guys happen to test it with the D800, be sure to let us know.

Thanks!
Tim

Jabari Hunt said:

I'm surprised the Nikon 50mm 1.4 didn't make the list!

Steve Kozicki said:

Very interesting insight in this and the previous D800 blog entry.

While it is understood that you won't achieve maximum benefit of the sensor from a mediocre lens, I am curious for some insight into the actual impact on resolution. I would expect the impact to fall somewhere between the extremes of: little or worse resolution compared to D700 sensor, to proportionately similar improvement gain as exhibited by top notch glass.

Thanks!
Steve

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

We're waiting to test the 105VR just to make sure it's good. We expect it (and several others, like the other Macros and PC-Es, etc.) will be fine, but the camera is so good we just want to actually have tested it before we recommend it.

Jabari, the 50mm f/1.4 probably won't make the grade. It's a very good lens in terms of look and good corner-to-corner sharpness, but it's just doesn't get as sharp as some of the other primes. The Sigma 50 f/1.4 will be sharper in the center, but we aren't sure it's going to hold up in the corners.

These certainly aren't the only lenses that will work great on the D800, they're just the ones we KNOW will be up to it's resolution right now.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Steve,

Any good lens will do better on the D800 than on a lesser camera as far as pure resolution goes, as far as I can tell. But only the best lenses will get every bit of that resolution.

Of course, that begs the question, when do we actually need that much resolution? Not always, that's for certain.

Jerry Russell said:

Hey there, Daniel Browning is back! Daniel, I remember your posts at POTN, trying to educate Canon users about why resolution and dynamic range are important. So you've finally made the switch to the dark side? I can't help myself, I'm considering the same switch.

Some of the Canon fans at POTN were treating you like it was the cold war and you were on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

DR and resolution are important to me because I'm not a very good photographer: sometimes I underexpose or shoot backlit subjects without fill flash, and I like to be able to recover shots in post if necessary; and sometimes I don't frame right, so I want good cropping power. And I may not be the most fabulous photographer, but if I'm going to carry around a big heavy camera, I want it to be the best available. 5dii was never that attractive because of the slow frame rate and simple autofocus. Earlier Nikon FF's either had only 12 mpix, other than the D3X which was just too expensive to consider.

But, I'm so disappointed in the news about the 5diii, especially DR.

Daniel Browning said:

Thanks, Jerry! We should probably try not to derail Roger's excellent blog post too much further. :)

Craig said:

I'm interested in two lenses that didn't make the list, since I happen to own them both:

300F4 AF-S
105VR

I strongly suspect both will do full justice to the sensor...

Craig

Jonathan said:

Didn't the 16-35 f/4 make it? It's one of Nikon's sharpest lens I know. I hope you have the time to test it :)

Jonathan

Jonathan said:

Didn’t the 16-35 f/4 make it? It’s one of Nikon’s sharpest lens I know. I hope you have the time to test it

Jonathan

Randy said:

Very helpful, Roger. I hope when you get to trying the 24 PC-E you will see what happens when you shift because even on a D700 you give up a lot of corner sharpness when shifting. Thanks!

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Jonathan,

We just haven't tested it yet. My fear is if, like most lenses, it has to be two stops down form maximum resolutions, that would put it at f/8 where most lenses are softening. Not saying it will need two stops down for maximum sharpness, but we just don't know yet.

Roger

Ken said:

How do you think for this combination "D800 + Zeiss 50/1.4 ZF.2" ? Have you had a chance to test this duo yet?

Murray said:

Roger, with the paucity of great 50's here (the Zeiss MP, a specialty lens of sorts does the odd thing for a macro by demonstrating field curvature), could you consider throwing in the Nikkor 50/1.2 AIS and Voigtlander 58/1.4 into the testing mix?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Murray, I definitely have a 50 f/1,2 AIS I can mount up, but I'm not sure I'll be able to get the 58 voigt in. I'll try though.

Of course, I'm having a heard time getting enough camera time to test anything at the moment, but we have a few more trickling in this week.

CarstenW said:

Roger, just rent it, like the rest of us. I know this great place... :)

Dmitrii said:

what about nikon 28-300? I think they inlcude it as kit lens in some countries...has to be good if nikon includes it with d800

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Dmitri wrote:
what about nikon 28-300? I think they inlcude it as kit lens in some countries…has to be good if nikon includes it with d800

To be brief, yes, they do, and no, it doesn't.

It's actually not a bad lens at all, I like it and wouldn't hesitate to take it on vacation. And I'm sure it resolves better on a D800 than a D700. I'm also sure it doesn't resolve as well as the best lenses. Of course we don't all always need that much resolution.

Mark said:

I'm curious how the 80-400vr does in dx mode on the d800. It's really the only hand holdable nikon telephoto at that length.

malchon kao said:

How about the Leica R lens & hasselblad lens? I paid & waiting for D800 in this moment.
I used D700 with adapter to use these lens as follows:
Leica R 21mm f4 lens, Leica R 28mm f2.8 lens, Leica R 35-70 f4 lens, Leica R 100 f2.8 apo lens, Leica R 70mm-180 f2.8 apo lens, Leica R 280mm f2.8 apo lens.
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens, Hasselblad 50mm f4 lens, hasselblad 160mm f4.8 lens,

Thanks.

Murray said:

To malchon kao:
The APOs will transition well. The Leica 28/2.8; if it's version 2 with the built-in hood...emphatically yes. The earlier version....doubtful. The 21/4 was a weak performer on the D700, so the D800 will only magnify its deficiencies.

John said:

Thanks for this Roger! I'd be very interested in the 85/1.8G result given the price difference with the 85/1.4G. Also there seems to be a lack of good 50's for the D800 if you want to shoot f/2.8 or wider. I'm wondering how the ZF50/2 makro would do.
Thank you!

Ed said:

Damn! There goes my 85D. Love that lens..

Ed said:

Roger:

This doesn't make sense...

Recommended-Nikon 105 f/2.8 VR Micro (934 / 870 @ f.8 Note – not tested at macro distances)
Not recommended-Nikon 105 f/2 DC (997 / 906 @ f/5.6)

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Ed, it's simply that there is no autofocus alternative at the 100 Macro distance. We're trying to recommend the better of each type, even if better isn't great. On the other hand, I guess there really is no alternative for the 105 DC, at least unless the 135 tests better (which I hope it does).

Dave V said:

This is very interesting... Eventually this high megapixel juice will trickle down into the lower level cameras. I wonder if this means we'll see sharper kit lenses and consumer-grade primes. Out of sheer curiosity would love to know how classic full-frame lenses perform on the D800. Lenses like my 28-70mm AF-S come to mind. I always thought I'd be able to have those types of lenses around forever, but maybe they're not up to snuff for 36MP.

Marc said:

Nice job Roger!

It would be quite interesting how the AF 28mm/1.4D will look on the D800. At least for me, I love mine on the D700... ;-)

Marc

Yazki said:

Hi, thanks reviewing those lens. I just want to know what performance of old AIS lenses. I have several Ais lenses which 24mm 2.8, 28mm 2.8, 35mm 1.4, 50mm 1.2, 85mm 1.4. I'm afraid I have to get rid of those beloved lenses.

David said:

Just found my 85 1.4D "the cream machine" made a 'not recommended' list with significantly lower figures than some of the other lenses there. Will have to trade it for something that will work with D800 (I got mine last week). It was perfect on my former D700. Don't want to throw another grand on 1.4G. Did you guys get any 85 1.8G to test? I could trade my 1.4D for 1.8G+ cash

Tony A said:

I just UPS'ed a D800 and Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 back to LensRentals today. Kinda sad but I'm next on the list at my local camera store for an '800. What a treat to get hands-on experience so soon after release. I'm going to have to have to point all 10 of my thumbs up for the Zeiss (yes I am that dexterous). I wouldn't be a bit surprised if it turns out to be sharper than the D800. Use it wide open and you will still blow away your present camera. Otherwise, "f/5.6 and be there" is the new rule.

A very pleasant surprise: LightRoom 4 was able to give me a targeted correction for this combination.

The Nikon 300mm f/4 AF-S, even with the 1.4X TC-E, is not afraid of this camera either.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

David, I haven't gotten to the 85 f/1.8 yet, but the 50 f1.8 was better than the f/1.4 in terms of pure resolution.

Daryl said:

How about the 24 f/2.8 and 85 f/1.8D? I know that the 24 f/2.8 is not as good as the f/1.4, but it is still a pretty solid performer considering the price.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Daryl,

I'm testing as fast as I can, but with the demand for D800s I can only get one a few hours a day.

Fred said:

Very interested (and seconding (or thirding) the request) in the results for the 300 f/4

nandadevieast said:

Hi Roger,
Is it possible for you to test 135 F2 DC?
regards,

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Nanda,

Absolutely will, but I'll be out of town most of this week so it may be a week or two.

Roger

Craig said:

Question on the 105vr - it's got a lower center resolution than the 85F1.4d, yet is still recommended over it. And it's listed at F8, where I assume diffraction has probably stolen a bit of performance. Any comments on it? I'm wondering a bit on the cut-off you used for what's recommended or not. I assume it's partly due to numbers, and partly due to having better alternatives?

Craig

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Craig,

It's recommended basically because it's the only autofocus Macro in that focal range. If the Sigma 150, etc. come in higher when we test we'll probably change it.

Roger

Roberto said:

Nice job. I'm impressed with the 85mm f/1.4G numbers. Can you test the Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8D AF-S? Thanks!

Very Serious Sam said:

Thanks a lot! It would be nice if there are also other 3rd party lenses tested, not just the expensive Zeiss. I'm talking Tokina, Sigma and Tamron here.

For instance, if one does not need a telezoom regularly, just for the odd shot - would e.g. a Tamron AF 70-300mm 4-5.6 Di SP VC USD (what a name) suffice or is it way to bad?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Sam,

It will get you a shot, and the shot will be a bit better than with a D700, but it will waste a lot of the capability of a D800.

Bill Belvin said:

For the zooms could you include the focal lengths you tested at?, For example the 24-120 is much better from 35-50 than at 24 and 70-120. It might even outperform the 24-70 in the 35-50 range.

Brian said:

Hi Roger, What a great job! Any chance you will be fitting in the Zeiss 18mm f3.5. I will be looking for a wide wide angle for my D800 when it arrives and I would rather spend on the 18 rather than the 15 when it comes out.

I have read your take on this lens and know about stopping it down and the darker corners but I usually shoot RAW so can correct for that. Mainly concerned about the resolution and CA at the MP size.

Thanks

Brian

Roberto said:

Hi Roger,

Thanks for taking your time and testing the Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8D. You guys are awesome.

Roland Meier said:

Hi Roger and Drew,

In the recommend list the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 is described as having "rather soft corners". This contrasts - sharply (no pun indented) - with this statement: "The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 ED is designed for exceptional edge-to-edge sharpness on the full frame D4, D3x, D800, and D700 bodies..." (source: http://www.lensrentals.com/rent/nikon/lenses/wide-angle/nikon-14-24mm-f2.8-ed).

My experience with the lens are very good with regards to corner sharpness except for wide-open. I don't have have a D800 (yet) but a D3x and the difference shouldn't be that significant. Could you please explain?

Thanks,

Roland

Paul said:

Why was the 105 VR tested at F8?

Zen said:

Nikon 24-120 VR (864 / 744 @ f/5.6)
Nikon 28-300 VR (922 / 716 @ f/8)

This result MUST BE WRONG.

The 24-120 F4G is better than the 28-300 VR in all other websites' and users' reviews. In addition, 24-120 F4G is in NIKON's D800E lens recommendation list.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Roland,

All I can say is 1) we never tested 14-24 corner resolution on 36 megapixels before now, 2) when the 14-24 came out and that was written the only full frame lens to compare it to was the 14mm f/2.8 - and the 14-24 is much better in the corners than that, and 3) as I've said a number of times, we always have to remember with Imatest we're shooting wide angle lenses rather close up, wide angles especially may behave differently at infinity. But for this kind of testing Imatest (and DxO which is very similar) are the only tools we have.

Roger

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Zen,

It's possible they are wrong: unlike the testing I'd like to do (10 or 15 copies each on 2 to 3 cameras to reduce sample variation) time and D800 stock prevent me from doing more than a couple of each on one body right now. We'll repeat them when we can.

BUT I'll add that I've never considered the 24-120 to be more than good, especially at the long end. Photozone's resolution tests show it to be average, particularly in the corners; SLR Gear's resolution tests were summarized as "it doesn't get close to sharp at anything like it's maximum aperture" (and since diffraction sharpening is setting in at f/8 that probably affects it here a lot); Lenstip found it weak from 70mm to 120mm. And we test zooms at the long end. Compared to the 28-300, Lenstip found the 28-300 sharper, Photozone found them similar in the center the 24-120 sharper in the edges, SLR gear found the 24-120 sharper. Doesn't seem "every review site" to me. Particular considering it's a 4x zoom verus a 10x zoom. The 4x SHOULD be much much sharper and in this case it's probably sharper. Not a great performance.

While I'll respectfully disagree with your "all other" review comment., particularly given the 28-300 works under a huge handicap as a 10x zoom, as I say above the results could well be wrong. But even if the 24-120 is better than the 28-300, it's not going to be close to the 24-70 or 70-200 in terms of resolution, which is all we're considering here.

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