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
  • AJ

    Hi Roger,
    just wondering what the criteria is for selecting a lens as ‘adequate’ rather than ‘not recommended’ for use with the D800?

  • When you get the chance, can you please check the 14-24mm in the widest focal length? I have a hunch it just might be better than in the middle focal length.

  • I think “I was wrong” is 3 words. But maybe I am wrong. 🙂

  • Jonathan

    Thanks for testing the 16-35 Roger, I know it’d be great 😀

    Can you also test the 135 f/2 DC and 200 f/4 micro? Thanks 😀

  • Dom

    I am intrigued on the 16-35 holds up well vs the 14-24 especially only being one stop down

  • Roger Cicala


    I was generalizing about third party lenses, thinking of consumer grade zooms. Good primes like the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 should do very well indeed.


  • jubilatu

    Thanks for very valuable infos you presented here. One question –
    when you mentioned “third party lenses” were you considered the fast normal primes also? Since nikon does not offer any 50L equivalent are the manual 50 AI-s, Zeiss (or the slower 60 micro) the only choices ?

  • Nick

    I do not think that the Zeiss 21/f2.8 is stellar. My Zeiss 35mm/f2 is better on my D7000 (centre)

    Please test it…

  • Don Weber

    I would love to see how the Zeiss ZF 25mm f/2.8 stacks up against the Zeiss 25mm f/2.0 !!!


  • Dennis Hardenburger

    Thanks for all your time and making these results available to the public for free.
    I am hoping that you will eventually test the 180 f2.8 AFD, I have been happy with it on my D800 but would still be interested in your tests.

  • Gene Nemeth

    Ditto on the 24mm PC-e. D800 seams like the perfect landscape camera and the 24 PC-e is one of my favorites for this

    Thanks Much for all this work!!!

  • DanP

    Hi Roger,

    Any thoughts about the 24mm PC-E?

  • Slick

    Roger, I know that ZF21 is gonna be a killuh but are you saving the best numbers for last? 😉

  • Roger Cicala

    Paul, they mean the same thing, but we’ve only had time to measure zooms at one focal length – near the center. Most zooms are weaker at one extreme, but time and equipment constraints prevent us from being able to do the entire range.

  • Paul H

    My understanding, perhaps from an earlier version of this post, is that the first number is the center resolution, the second number is the average edge/corner resolution and the aperture is the optimal f/stop that yielded the ‘best possible resolution’ for that particular lens. Makes sense for a fixed focal length lens. What do these numbers mean for a zoom lens?

  • Roger Cicala


    1) Probably because all the zoom tests are at about the midpoint of the zoom – we don’t have time to check throughout the range on this thing. Not surprising the 16-35 @ 24mm had better corners (reflecting the number you’re quoting) than the 14-24 @ 19mm. No question the 14-24 is a better lens, particularly at the wide end.

    2) If you read the addendum in the introduction, it’s because our first run (which was done on only one camera) was incorrect. When we had enough time and cameras to repeat the measurements several times with several bodies and lenses the numbers for that lens were better (I’m surprised it was only one, actually). A good illustration of why it’s always dangerous to rely on any test of just one lens on one camera. Variation happens. I hated doing it when we did it for just that reason, but people were screaming for some numbers, any numbers, so I posted the preliminary results.

    That being said, I’d like to keep perspective on this test: it’s the best we can do under the time constraints we have. But even now it’s usually 2 to 4 copies of the lens on a couple of cameras. Our usual reports have involved 40 or 50 lenses on 4 or 5 cameras. Obviously I’m a lot more comfortable with those, but there won’t be time to ever do that for this post – we have to use the equipment to test the rental lenses to make sure they’re OK.


  • Eaton

    Two questions:

    1.) How is it that the 16-35mm f4 is better than the 14-24mm (952 vs 831) when almost all tests I’ve seen say the reverse? What is it about the D800 that is making the 16-35 that much better or is it that 14-24 is doing that much worse thus making the former look better as a comparison?

    2.) Noticed that the resolution score for the 24-120 f4 increased significanly since the last update (April 3 or 4 I think). Why the difference?

  • Roger Cicala


    I retested several other 24-120s on other D800s and the numbers were better. Seems like sample variation reared it’s head. Which is what I get for going against my own advice and putting out tests done on just a couple of copies. The new numbers are better and should be up today.


  • john

    24-120f4 VR seems not to be a good lens on D800. It came last on all the lenses tested so far. I guess I have to change my plans on purchasing it.

  • agate

    Thanks, this is great info. Do you have any suggestions on which Opteka lens to get for the D800 for telephoto work?


  • Roger Cicala

    Murray, not any worse in the center, but the edges were better at f/8 so we went with that. Makes some sense: the corners were still improving more than diffraction was softening, but in the center it was a wash.

  • Murray

    The peak numbers you provided for the 24-70 are at ƒ/8, reportedly in the diffraction zone for the D800. Was the performance @ ƒ/5.6 that much worse?

  • Roger Cicala

    Graham, the 28-70 was a dominatingly good lens for many years. I think the 24-70 is better overall, and it’s better at f/2.8, but not by a huge margin.

  • graham j

    cool, but look how good the 28-70 @ f5.6 did against the 24-70 @f8.

    starting to wonder if i need to upgrade the 28-70 after all?

    comments Roger ?

  • Excited to see this! Was waiting for just such a resource to show up so I can get an idea of how my lenses may fare / what I should replace while I wait for the D800 to become more available.

  • Chris_

    Would love to see the 300mm F4 AFS.. with and without TC-14E II 1.4x Teleconverter.

    This is a great resource. Thanks for the hard work.

  • Gianluca

    to Ben: Photozone tests actually show that the 85mm f/1.4 G is vastly superior to the 1.4 D (4 stars in optical quality vs 2…).

    I’m really curious to see how the 200mm f/2 performs on the D800.

    Thanks for testing all these lenses!

  • Jonathan


    Please test the 16-35 f/4 when you have the time. Thanks 😀

  • leslie

    I own the Nikon 85mm 1.4 D and can’t help noticing how poorly the numbers showed. It is my all time favorite lens and I am buying a D800 shortly. I’m very new to Nikon DSLRs (using film until now) so I am new and unfamiliar with these tests and numbers. Can you please explain to me in more detail why there is such a big difference between the 85G and the 85D lens. How unhappy will I be using my 85D on the D800?

  • Larry Go

    The Nikkor 24mm f/3.5 PC-E does not cut it with the D800?

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