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 Lensrentals.com. 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
  • Thanks a lot Roger.

    Can you please also test it with older nikkor lenses like 35-70mm f2.8d and 80-200 f2.8D?

  • Dan

    Mostly I just want to thank you for this page. It’s been a great resource.

    (Also, I’d join those who are interested in seeing the Zeiss’ 28 f2 numbers for comparison with the Nikon 28 f1.8)

  • Lori


    Thank you so much for taking the time for giving me a further explaination. That was really helpful.


  • Roger Cicala

    Hi Lori,

    I think the simplest thing is that you can look at it two ways: If you buy a D800 and have an average lens, that lens will resolve more than it would on a lesser camera. But the D800 is capable of very high resolution and some lenses can let more of that resolution show than others. If I wanted to make a really large print (which is what a lot of people buying D800s want to do) I wouldn’t want to use an average lens, though, I’d want to use the best lens that allows the D800 to do it’s thing. On the other hand, if I was going to make an 8 X 10 inch print, it would be less important.


  • Lori

    Just when I think I’m really beginning to understand cameras and photography I read here:

    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.

    What is the correlation between lens and resolution? I’m contemplating upgrading my camera to the D800, but I want to make sure I understand what I’m getting. Was thinking about renting one here to give it a test before purchase and was reading this blog, which is great, BTW! If you could explain at some point I would be grateful. No hurry b/c it sounds like you’re really busy. Best, Lori

  • Viktor

    Hello, Roger! What can you say about sigma 85 1.4 performance mounted on D800? Really looking forward to this lens because nikon 1.4 too pricey and new 1.8 not so smooth for bokeh shots.

  • Ulrich

    Thanks for these tests, very useful. I was pleasantly surprised by how well the new relatively inexpensive 28mm 1.8 did, it handily beat many expensive primes, such as the Nikon 35mm, and the Zeiss 21mm (in corner performance)!

  • Dennis Hardenburger

    I really appreciate the time and effort you have put into the lens testing. I am sure many people do. I honestly don’t know how you manage the time to do this, while running the rental business.
    If you ever have the time I would hope that you could test the 180mm f2.8 AFD, this lens has always been one of my favorites.
    I am a 45 year advanced amateur, and I have never rented a lens from and I don’t see it happening. But I am saving to purchase a Zeiss lens from you. I hope to eventually have the Zeiss 50mm and 100mm.

  • Guy

    Thanks for these reviews, they’ve been very helpful in helping me choose lenses.
    The DXOMark rating for the Samyang 35mm F1.4 AS UMC Nikon on the D3X is better than both the Nikon and Carl Zeiss alternatives but costs less than a third the price.
    Any chance of a comparison on the D800?

  • Roger Cicala

    HI Mark,

    I’m hoping to do some Macro testing – but we have to buy some special charts and targets first. Hopefully in a month or so.

  • Mark Malkin

    Excellent information and test results – thank you! For us scientific/macro photographers It would be fantastic to know how the D800 does with the Sigma 150/2.8 macros ( both the IS and non), the Nikon Micro 200/4.0AF-D, and the unusual but much praised (ie by Bjorn Rorslett) Nikkor UV 105/4.5 when used for visible light work. I see you have the coastal UV60 – perhaps that one would be of interest too.

  • Bob

    Hi Roger,

    Thanks for doing all of these tests. My requests would be for the Sigma 50mm and 85mm primes, but I’m sure you’re sick of testing by now.

    The D800 has about the same pixel density as the D7000, so I assume this is a good list of hi-res lenses for the D7000 (well, the “average” measurement would be less meaningful given the smaller sensor size).

    But what about even higher density sensors like the new D3200 (24MP APS-C) and the supposed other upcoming Nikon DX cameras (24 MP)?

    Am I correct in thinking that these higher-density sensors would be even more demanding on lenses than the D800? Or is that not correct? Is it really harder to get sharper photos with a more dense sensor, ceteris paribus? Have we really reached the limit of what lenses can resolve, or not?

    Some questions for another article maybe… 🙂 Thanks again for all the work that you do.

  • Roger Cicala


    I don’t plan on testing the 18mm: the vignetting is so bad we consider it just for crop sensors. It’s usable on a full frame, but can be so dark that bringing up the corners in post causes them to look very grainy and artificial.

  • Jorge


    Any chance you can test the Zeiss 18mm zf.2 ? I wonder how much I’d give up for those extra 3mm when compared to the 21mm.

  • Roger Cicala


    I don’t have the ability (yet) to test at infinity, so my answer is based largely on the reports of others. But those reports seem to indicate that the 25 f/2 is best at middle distance and not as good at infinity, which might steer me more to either the 25 f/2.8 or 21 f/2.8. But I haven’t compared them enough to make any input of my own.


  • Roger,
    I know you only tested the Zeiss 25/2 and not the 25/2.8, yet I was wondering if you feel the 25/2.8 would make a better landscape lens shot at F5.6/F8 towards infinity on the D8000


  • Jon

    Roger –

    Have you had a chance to test the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 Pro FX on the D800?

    Given the high resolution on the D800 just curious if you were better off sticking with Nikon lenses.

    Thanks –

  • Jörg

    hi roger,
    you can test the Zeiss 28mm 2.0?
    I would like to compare it with the new Nikkor 28mm 1.8G.
    Thank you, dear greetings joerg

  • Roger Cicala


    I’ll definitely get to the Zeiss, but having tested both of the Schneider’s on D3x I know they aren’t going to be great on the D800. Both are wonderful lenses and I shoot both regularly — but not when I want maximum resolution. That’s not what they are about. Plus both are at f/8 at least on other cameras before they max out.

  • Thanks for all your hard work. I would second the Schneider PC lenses plus the Zeiss 28mm F2

  • Florian

    Numbers for the Schneider Lenses would be interesting. Especially if one has to choose between the 85 Nikon pce and the 90 symmar.
    Thanks for the tests, nice to see how well the Zeiss lenses perform.

  • Lee

    Can you share the Nikon 85 1.8’s results at 5.6? I’d like to compare apples to apples on the 85s.

  • Great lens tests, Roger, thanks so much. I’m primarily wildlife photog, but not entirely. I leaning to D800E. You’ve covered the Nikon lenses I was interested in.
    I’ll keep checking back in case you happen to address a couple of other lenses I have … Sigma 50-500mm with OS that I plan to test on lion shoot, in S. Africa …and Tamron 28-300mm without OS (or VR in Nikon-speak. )
    Thanks again, super much.

  • Roger Cicala

    Hi Steven,

    Unfortunately using Imatest we can’t test at infinity. Until we get our equipment in for bench testing (another couple of weeks) I can’t run infinity tests.


  • Roger at of all the 50mm you tested on the D800 which would perform the best at infinity focus?
    Zeiss 50/2
    Nikon 50/1.4
    Nikon 50/1.8

    Looking at your numbers it seems that the Zeiss wins, but I am not sure if that is the case at infinity?


  • Lee

    Roger, I’m sure you’ve gotten 5000 emails requesting certain lenses, so I won’t add to that chorus, I’ll just add my voice to say that this article is very very helpful and appreciated and I hope you continue to add to it as time permits.

  • Roger Cicala

    Sorry, George, I’ve had a lot of trouble since the new site rolled and have had to redo a bunch of links by hand. It should be fixed now: http://wordpress.lensrentals.com/2012/03/d800-lens-selection


  • George

    I see correction up now, but the link still drives into “D” version of 85 F/1.8.
    Link you posted in your last comment doesn’t work for me, not allowed to access it.

  • Roger Cicala
  • George

    Hi Roger,
    I’m still waiting for AF-S 85mm F/1.8 score.

Follow on Feedly