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
  • Bengt Nyman

    Many photographers today wonder how their existing lenses will perform on a new camera, especially on one with a higher resolution sensor. A 36 MP sensor corresponds to 104 LP/mm and a 50 MP sensor corresponds to 144 LP/mm. Testing done with 10 or even 50 LP/mm charts are therefore off target when it comes to answering these questions.
    I wish that somebody started publishing charts showing image contrast as a function of line pair density. A 36 MP sensor corresponds to 104 LP/mm and a 50 MP sensor corresponds to 144 LP/mm, so we would like to know how the lens performs up to 150 LP/mm.

  • Roger Cicala

    Bengt, article after article mentions it. It’s MTF50 measured in LP / IH.


  • How do YOU measure lens sharpness. Please define the unit used for your lens sharpness numbers. Is it line pairs per millimeter or something relative?
    Thank You.

  • Roger Cicala


    THe apertures listed were the best aperture (highest resolving aperture) on the D800 body. Some might have been a tiny bit better one further stop down, but so close that I considered the difference inconsequential.


  • Hi Roger, hate to drag up this aged post, but I’ve just stepped up from a D7000 to a D750 and am consequently agonising over the upgrades required for lenses.

    I’ve been astounded by the extra detail so have been looking for numbers and reviews from what I consider as actually knowledgable (or even expert) measurements and assessments, which is obviously why I am here and the LensRentals blog and the D800 lens post.

    What I am curious about are the selected apertures on the above numbers.
    Are the selected apertures if not random, essentially arbitary?
    Are these the apertures where the best numbers came from?
    Or is there some other factor(s)?
    (e.g. my inability to read information that is plainly posted – apologies if this is the case).

    Thanks for an awesome resource.

  • Paul R

    If you haven’t seen it, here’s a Lumo Labs white paper on the differences (theoretical and measured) between the d800 and d800E: http://www.falklumo.com/lumolabs/articles/D800AA/
    Spoiler alert: in the real world, with proper processing, the differences are generally irrelevant.
    This is also echoed by by friends who have both cameras. You must sharpen the files from each camera optimally, not identically.

  • Roger Cicala


    Our tests show it very close to the Nikon 24-70 and certainly a much better value. We didn’t have it done at the time this list was made, but personally I wouldn’t hesitate to use it on a D800.


  • Hans

    Hi Roger,

    apologies if this has been covered already, but what about the Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC? DPreview seemed to like it a lot (although they tested it only on Canons FX and DX), and DXO ranked slightly above Nikons 24-70 equivalent. Have you had a chance to test it on the D800/D800E?

  • Roger Cicala

    Rich, the f/4 version

  • Rich

    Many thanks for the useful information.
    One question: is the ‘Nikon 24-120 VR’ listed above under ‘Nikon Zooms’ the f/4 version or the f/3.5-5.6 version?

  • salim

    This has become my goto place about lens decision and what I recommend to friends. Can you please add the numbers for the zeiss 135/2 apo please.

  • Konstantin

    Roger, thank you for such big work you made of! It`s very useful! Can you make the same measurements for Zeiss Distagon ZF.2 15/2.8? It`s very interesting to look how his work at Nikon 800(e) and compare with Nikon 14-24 and Zeiss 21 2.8…
    Thank you for your work one more time!
    And PLEASE make testing Zeiss Distagon ZF.2 15/2.8! 🙂

  • Pov

    Have you had the chance to test the new Sigma “art line” 35mm 1.4g? Some reputable reports say that this lens is considerably better than the Nikkor version. Many thanks!

  • Roger Cicala

    Unfortunatley I don’t have any 180 f2/2.8 to test – we don’t carry it.

  • Hi Roger,
    Can we get the numbers for Nikon 180 2.8 AF-D…?

  • Roger Cicala

    Hi Greg,

    I wish I had a correct answer for you. DxO is very proprietary about their measurements so I can’t comment on what, exactly, it means when they say that. In some ways, the DxOAnalysis system may be better: it measures small circles rather than larger diagonal trapezoids so they get more places on the lens and further into the corners. In some ways it’s less good – they have fewer sizes of targets and they tend to work at shorter distances.

    The bottom line, though, is I suspect a couple of things account for their differences more than the above:
    1) They do test only one sample, or at least they did the last time I spoke with them. There are a couple of other weird results in lenses on their pages.
    2) I’m not certain how their testing works: if the apply distortion correction, for example, that could change resolution hugely. They’re more camera and sensor oriented and less into glass for glass sake – they’re more interested in distortion correction for their software, as they should be. It’s some great software.
    3) I’m pretty comfortable saying anyone who rates the Zeiss 21mm as lower resolution either has flawed testing, a bad sample, or is trying to correct its moustache distortion before analysing it’s resolution. Honestly, there are only a few lenses I would say that about so flatly, but the Zeiss 21mm is one. It’s not perfect, the moustache distortion makes it a poor choice for some architectural shots and it’s a complex lens that can get decentered, but a good copy resolves as well as, if not better than, any other wide-angle lens made.


  • Greg Fischer

    Roger –

    DxO has recently started publishing a Perceptual Megapixel (P-MPix) measure of lens sharpness. The latest Nikon FX model they publish results for is the D3x. It is difficult to compare their numbers with yours because their process for averaging across the lens frame is a bit opaque and they use a different body in their tests. But one of their numbers jumps out (for Zeiss 21/2.8 ZF.2) as surprisingly out of line with your numbers. For example, they rate the Zeiss 21 as giving an effective 13 P-MPix (on a D3x), a Nikon 28/1.8 as giving 19 P-MPix and a Nikon 24/1.4 as giving 16 P-MPix whereas your numbers above suggest the Zeiss 21 and Nikon 24 are roughly equal and slightly better than the Nikon 28/1.8.

    It is hard to reconcile these differences despite the difference in bodies used in the tests. I wonder if this is an “N of 1” problem if they do all of their analysis on one body and one lens. If they do, it makes one wonder about their correction modules or Adobe’s. Are they also based on very small samples of lenses tested on one body?

    I own a Nikon 28/1.8 and have been trying to choose between the Zeiss 21 and Nikon 24 as wider prime lens for landscapes. (Primes suddenly became more appealing when I switched from a D700 to D800.)

    Your recent tests of lens sharpness and autofocus accuracy have done something very interesting by highlighting the variability in lenses (and body alignment) that complicate any efforts to evaluate equipment.
    Your results certainly raise questions about tests based on very small samples – often I suspect of only one lens on one body.

    Thanks for the very interesting articles – and for making a non-obvious decision even less obvious.

    Greg Fischer

  • Seric

    Feng Chun: The corner sharpness and average number would at the very least change, since the sensor would only be using the center portion of the glass.

  • Feng Chun

    Add a bit to my question above, if they put on the same lens and put in the same position to shoot the same target. (yes, that means D7000 only get a crop view of what D800 gets)

  • Feng Chun

    I actually have a question, the D7000 has almost the same pixel density as D800. Does that mean if we put on the same lens, they will resolve the same number?

  • Roger Cicala

    Hi Ann,

    I’ve tried it and liked it very much. I haven’t gotten a chance to test it on D800s yet, which is what I’m waiting for before I write about it.


  • Ann

    Have you tried out the new 70-200 f/4 yet? Even if you haven’t had copies of the lens in house long enough to run full tests, I’d like to hear your opinion.

  • Toni

    Thx for the listing!

    I experienced some problems while shooting in natural light. First Ithought it’s missfocussing, then i thought it’s the shuter speed – both are critical but were not the reason.
    The reason is border resolution of the lenses.
    As I shoot fashion and portrait I do need sharp eyes. As they usualy are in the rule of 3rd, they suffer from bad borders.
    Following lenses I have experience:
    24-70mm nikon will work from f4, better f5,6
    Zeiss 35mm f2 is good from f4
    Zeiss 100mm f2 good from f2.2

    According to photozones charts thiss would be when they reach 3300 resolution in the borders.
    I wonder how Zeiss 50 f2(I guess not any better) or Zeiss 35 f1.4 would be at f2.8.
    It’s not really an issue with street or nature to shoot wide open, but poeple involded show the critical zones.

  • Could you possibly test the Schneider PC TS Super-Angulon 50mm f/2.8? I’d really love to see how it stacks up agains the Zeiss glass.


  • herbert hiew


    Back in May you mentioned that you will be getting in equipment to test for infinity. Have you managed to go that?



  • Thank you ,, but I missed the lens Baby tests,, where are they !!

  • wish you published the figures for all these lenses wide open…

  • Mike Devlin

    Hi Roger, and all of the team… this article has really helped me deciding which lenses to purchase for a Nikon D800… I normally use whatever the studio has… but, I have for the first time in quite a few yearrs invested in a DSLR kit of my own… 3 Zeiss so far, 50MP, 100MP & 25mm f2.0… any news on the 15mm Distagon tests ???


  • Florian

    This chart is still missing the Zeiss 28mm f2. Any numbers for that one? Should be a bit better in the corners than the 25mm. Or are there any negatives with that lens on the D800?
    Thanks for all the lens-testing, good work.

  • Roger Cicala

    Hi Taurun,

    I’d love to, but I don’t have any. We only stock things that are currently sold, with just a couple (Nikon 28mm f1.8, etc.) of exceptions.


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