D800 Lens Selection

Published March 26, 2012

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:


Nikon Primes

Nikon Zooms

Nikon Supertelephoto


Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in Equipment
  • David

    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

  • Yazki

    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.

  • 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… 😉


  • Dave V

    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.

  • Roger Cicala

    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).

  • Ed


    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)

  • Ed

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

  • John

    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!

  • Murray

    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.

  • malchon kao

    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,


  • 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.

  • Roger Cicala

    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.

  • Dmitrii

    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

  • Roger, just rent it, like the rest of us. I know this great place… 🙂

  • Roger Cicala

    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.

  • Murray

    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?

  • Ken

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

  • Roger Cicala


    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.


  • Randy

    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!

  • Jonathan

    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

    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 🙂


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

    300F4 AF-S

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


  • Daniel Browning

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

  • Jerry Russell

    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.

  • Roger Cicala


    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.

  • Roger Cicala

    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.

  • Steve Kozicki

    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.


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

  • 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.


  • Daniel Browning

    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. 🙂

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