D800 Lens Selection
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 ZF.2 21mm f/2.8 (1180 / 940 @ f/4) — note: it was nearly as sharp, 1140 / 905 at f/2.8, making it the sharpest lens at f/2.8)
- Zeiss ZF.2 25mm f/2.0 (1216 / 1017 @ f/4)
- Zeiss ZF.2 35mm f/2.0 (1065 / 935@f/5.6)
- Zeiss ZF.2 35mm f/1.4 (1103 / 987 @f/5.6)
- Zeiss ZF.2 50mm f/2.0 Makro Planar (1087/1022@f/5.6)
- Zeiss ZF.2 50mm f/1.4 (1137 / 838 @ f/5.6)
- Zeiss ZF.2 85mm f/1.4 (1046 /0948 @ f/5.6)
- Zeiss ZF.2 100mm f/2.0 Makro Planar (1091 / 1030 @ f/4)
- Nikon 24mm PC-E (985 / 795 @ f/8)
- Nikon 24mm f/1.4 G ED (1183 / 845 @ f/5.6) — note: the corners are rather soft
- Nikon 28mm f/1.8 G AF-S (1170 / 1000 @ f/4)
- Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AF-S G (1049 / 930 @ f/4)
- Nikon 45mm f/2.8D ED PC-E (1059 / 861 @f/8)
- Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AI-S (1049 / 745 @ f/4 — note: the corners are rather soft)
- Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G (1073 / 889 @ f/5.6)
- Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G (1045 / 940 @ f/5.6)
- Nikon 60mm f/2.8 Macro (1022 / 924 @ f/8)
- Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S (1044 / 1021 @ f/5.6)
- Nikon 85mm f/1.4 D (955 / 753 @ f/5.6)
- Nikon 85mm f/1.8 AF-S (1053 / 942@ f/8)
- Nikon 85mm PC-E (1012 / 924 @f/5.6)
- Nikon 105 f/2.8 VR Micro (934 / 870 @ f.8 Note – not tested at macro distances)
- Nikon 105 f/2.8 VR Micro (1050 / 990 @ f.8 Tested at Macro distances)
- Nikon 105 f/2 DC (997 / 906 @ f/5.6)
- Nikon 200mm f/2.G AF-S VR (1175 / 1005 @ f/4)
- Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 ED (1181 / 831 @ f/5.6 — note: the corners are rather soft)
- Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR (1136/952@f/5.6)
- Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 AF-S ED (1107 / 902 @ f/8)
- Nikon 17-35 f/2.8 (1040 /863 @ f/5.6)
- Nikon 28-70 f/2.8 (1056 / 895 @ f/ 5.6)
- Nikon 24-120 VR (1027 /836 @ f/5.6)
- Nikon 28-300 VR (922 / 716 @ f/8)
- Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S VR II (1080 / 957 @ f/4)
- Nikon 300mm f/4 AF-S (990/882 @ f/8)
- Nikon 300mm f/2.8G AF-S VR II
- Nikon 400mm f/2.8 AF-S VR
- Nikon 500mm f4G AF-S VR
- Nikon 600mm f/4 AF-S VR
- Nikon 200-400 f/4 AF-S VR II
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.