Recommended lenses for the Nikon D800E

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Not quite summer at the Lac du Joux. Nikon D800E, Zeiss ZF.2 2.8/21 Distagon

Having had a solid couple of months to use the Nikon D800E and a variety of lenses, I’ve now compiled my recommended list of recommended lenses for the camera; some of the entries might or might not surprise you. These are lenses which I would not hesitate to use wide open, and will give you outstanding acuity, color and resolution providing you manage to nail the focus, of course. I’ve tested multiple samples of these lenses, as it seems that these days, consistency is hugely important and not always guaranteed. This list is also not exhaustive, because I’m sure there are exceptional copies of lenses I’ve ruled off the list, and there are almost certainly other obscure optics which I haven’t had the chance to try (and probably won’t ever manage to, either.)

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Grain silo. Nikon D800E, AFS 28/1.8

Nikon AFS 28/1.8 G
Carl Zeiss ZF.2 2/21 Distagon T*
Carl Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 Distagon T*

Nikon AI 45/2.8 P
Nikon AFS 60/2.8 G Micro
Carl Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar

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Pears. Nikon D800E, Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar

Nikon AFS 85/1.8 G
Carl Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar
Any of the Nikon superteles

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Maitres du Temps Chapter 3 Prototype. Nikon D800E, AFS 60/2.8 G

Nikon AFS 16-35/4 VR N
Nikon AFS 24-70/2.8 G N
Nikon AFS 70-200/2.8 II VR G N

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Sushi. Nikon D800E, PCE 85/2.8

Special purpose
Nikon PCE 85/2.8 Micro

Near misses (close, but not quite in the awesome league).
Nikon AFS 14-24/2.8 G – performance at 14mm lets it down, in my mind.
Nikon AFS 24/1.4 G N – I think this one is very, very borderline: if you get a good sample that focuses properly, it can probably be added to the list. However, I’ve used many of these lenses and there seems to be a lot of sample variation and focusing issues even on D700/D3 bodies; it doesn’t give me a lot of confidence.
Nikon PCE 24/1.4 – I’ve used one excellent one, and one that was merely so-so. Mixed reports on the web don’t suggest that the so-so one is a rare anomaly, and there just aren’t any more of them for me to test.

You’ll probably have noticed that the 28-300VR didn’t make the list; it’s because the lens just didn’t perform on the D800E to anywhere near the same extent it did on the regular D800. Just one of those inexplicable anomalies…

For more detail on any of the lenses mentioned here, visit the CAMERAPEDIA! MT.


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  1. Thanks for a great source of information!

    I have a D800 and can’t choose between two of your recommendations: a Nikon 85 1.8G for about $500, or the 100 2.0 Makro Planar for about $1000. Which one would you choose and why? I have the great 24-70 as well and now just want a high-end lens for portraits etc.

    • For portraits, the 85/1.8G. The 2/100 is extremely specialised and the short focus throw means it’s actually quite hard to focus accurately further away than 2m.

      • erlingmarkdotcom says:

        Thanks a låt! And the difficulty doesn’t pay off when having mastered it? I’m quite the perfectionist and will learn how to handle that focus. I prefer a few superb shots to a more consistent but lower level, but as I’ve only used the 1.8D on the D800 I don’t know what to expect of the G version. Your stuff on the Makro Planar looks really, really inspiring, portrait and otherwise, and I basically just want a high-end lens as my special weapon on gigs/events/travelling when the 24-70 2.8 doesn’t feel good enough. But perhaps the 1.8G will be just as satisfying? Thanks for clearing some confusion – I’ll make a decision within a few days.

  2. **

  3. Have you ever had the opportunity to try the zeiss 135mm f/2 apo sonar?

  4. tedyedsen says:

    if you have Nikon d800/e dont use Sigma lenses like 24-70 2.8 or 150-500.70-200 2.8 the onley lens from sigma i find good is 150/180 2.8 macros the high res sensor on d800e requires high end glas like Nikon 14-24 24-70 70-200 or the 300mm 2.8

    • Jaz Yes says:

      Any opinion on SIgma 300 mm 2.8 or new Sigma 120-300 mm 2.8? Yes i wish to use also 2.0 teleconverter 🙂


      • No idea, I don’t have access to those lenses…plus I wouldn’t be the best person to review them as they don’t suit the kinds of things I photograph.

        • Jaz Yes says:

          Messed Up On my ooooold Canon D60 (6,52 Mp, 35 mm equivalent 1,6x the lens focal lenght)) +CANON 100 mm 2.8 L IS USM i get almost the same size of a fly as on nikon d800E+nikkor 105 mm 2.8 micro. When i cropped from nikon i get 6-7 mb px. Yes nikon d800 e is full frame but…. 36 Mp vs. 6.5??? If I want to get a similar cut (percentage) than i must use all keno rings. This of course mean less DOF. What is the problem? It is possible DX mode solution??? Yes i used minimum distance.


          • Firstly, I don’t really understand what you’re asking or saying. Please re-read your text carefully before sending it. Secondly, both lenses deliver 1:1 magnification at minimum focusing distance. That’s 16x24mm subject area on the Canon and 36x24mm on the Nikon. The Nikon in DX crop – to the same 16×24 area as the Canon – will give 15mp. It is not the best camera for this kind of high magnification work anyway; it seems that if the number of pixels is your primary concern you’d be better off with one of the 24mp Nikon DX bodies.

  5. What 35mm lens do your recommend?

    • I’ve said this a zillion times in various places, but I just don’t shoot 35mm. The only two I really liked were the 35/2 ASPH and 35/1.4 ASPH FLE for Leica M. Nothing for Nikon.

  6. did you get a chance to test the nikkor 17-35 2.8 on either of the D800/e. this is the sharpest lens in my stable and use all the time for landscape on my d700

  7. felix augusto says:

    wich one its better lens between zeiss distagon 15mm f2.8 and nikon 24mm f/1.4

  8. felix augusto says:

    really i woul like to know wich one its the sharpest prime lenses by nikon

  9. Ming,,sorry and I know this is a older post…but was wondering your thoughts on the 70-200vr2 2.8 on the D800e??…I know you state that it is one of the recommended lenses for the D800e…but how good has it been for you?? Thx for your wonderful helpful site..and all the great topics/opinions you share ..
    I’m really hoping that when I get this will be better than it was on the d800..(which was very good)
    Thx ..

  10. Ming Thein, you say any of the Nikon Super Tele’s are good on the D800, which in particular have you tested. Is super Tele Above 200m ? I noticed the 135 not tested above so wondered what had been reviewed for a broad statement like that. Thanks and great work

  11. did you try the nikon 24mm 2.8d + d800e??

  12. I’ve noticed you use a lot of the Nikon 60 micro for macro work on these pages, but you also recommend the Zeiss 50. I was wondering if there was any advantages of one over the other?

    • The Zeiss has better microcontrast but doesn’t reach 1:1 natively and has less working distance; sometimes practicality and efficiency – especially on a tight job – take priority over reaching the last percent of image quality. I’ve got a review of the 60 coming soon.

      • Thanks Ming, looks like it should be the same across the board on the Carl Zeiss lenses vs the Nikons.

        • Not quite. I wouldn’t use the Zeiss 50/1.4 or 85/1.5, for instance. In both cases the Nikon 1.8G versions are much better – and a LOT cheaper too…

          • Thanks for your answers. Few stupid questions 🙂 Is Zeiss mark Planar 100mm, AF-S or AF lens (must i set camera to mode M?) Which size kenko tubes you use 12, 20, 36 or all? Whar about quality of the pictures and minimal focus distance? 5, 10, 15 cm?


            • All of the Zeisses are manual focus. You use different tubes depending on how much magnification you need. Minimum focus distance also varies.

              • Can you tell me which ring you use the most? I wish to see some pictures with all 3 rings and minimum distances (which is?). Magical word: PL 🙂


                • Usually the 36mm on the 85/2.8 PCE, sometimes two of them. 36mm will get you down to 1:1, two will take you to about 1.5:1 or thereabouts. There’s obviously a range as you still also have the helicoid in the lens…

                  • Do you test Nikon 200 mm f/4 Micro on Nikon D800E? On Nikon D800E technical guide lens for enchanted sharpness it missing. I saw some amazing pictures of this lens but only on D700 and D3. 


  13. What about macro lenses. Zeiss ZF 100 mm si a fantastic lens ( but i need magnification ratio 1:1. Nikon 200 mm is too old (and no VR). Nikon 105 to small. Do you have any experience with sigma 150 mm or 180 f/2.8 lenses?

  14. Der Ökonom says:

    I didn’t find the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35 mm 1:1,4G. Did I miss it, or didnt you test it on the D800?

  15. I didn’t find the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35 mm 1:1,4G. Did I miss it, or didnt you test it on the D800?

  16. Torbjörn Tapani says:

    It’s been a long road for me until I got my ultrawide zoom for the D800E. I finally settled on the 14-24 after months of reading and weighing pros and cons. I’ve been over this page many times and I think this blog is extremely helpful. Still I decided to go against the recommendation of Ming and I’m actually glad I did. Test shots at 16 mm shows my copy of the 14-24 easily outperforms the 16-35 towards edges and corners in sharpness and CA. And it performs even better at 14 mm. But this is just a quick field test and I’m sure there are other considerations that went into the recommendation here, but I’m happy with the performance so far. This is in no way intended as a criticism towards this list or Mr Thein but in the end you have to decide for yourself. Certainly there are many drawbacks to the 14-24 compared to a lens with a more useful focal range, 77 mm threads, VR etc but for now I will try and forget about gear for a while and do some actual photography.

    Thank you Ming for an excellent blog!

    • There is definitely some sample variation – so whilst one copy may well outperform another, on average, the 16-35s have been a bit better than the average 14-24 for me. If you got a good copy – that’s great, keep it and enjoy it! I’ve seen dud 16-35s too. The more complex the optical design, the more potential there is for sample variation because so many things have to be within tolerances to achieve the design MTF target.

  17. Just found your site comparing D800e and Leica S2. I’m torn as I think te lenses are amazing but stupid money and the body is just ok. So I might consider staying with Nikon and loved your must have list of lenses.
    My working fields of view are 24-150 as I currently use pentax67 on D800 to shoot and stitch pano. In fac most are shot 45 or 100 mm which is typcally a 24mm or 50mm field if view.
    I am tired of losing so many shots so wanted to consider AF but seems like best lenses are all MF. This seems a little 1970. Cannot believe on Leica and Schneider can produce optically great lenses that AF?

    My question is therefore which AF are edge to edge the best?
    Which MF are the bet edge to edge ?

    Which others have you considered but can get. .?

    Of course happy for others to chip in on the 24-150 range. Thanks great site Ming.

    • I think Nikon got caught a bit short with the D800E. However, if you stop them down to the same f2.5 as the Leicas, you’ll find they generally do pretty well – but give you the bonus of f1.4 if you need it. The purpose of this list is exactly to answer your questions!

  18. Hello, Ming Thein! Thanks for your blog, your beautiful photo and this review! Please tell me what you think about this lens Schnider PC-TS 4.5/90MM for Nikon D800E?

    • Sorry, I haven’t used it. Exotic glass like that is nearly impossible to get in this part of the world.

      • Will you be in the near future to test the lens Sigma A 35 mm f/1.4 DG HSM on Nikon d800e? He has appeared recently and I would be very interested to hear your opinion. Thank you!

        • Unlikely – this is one I’d have to purchase in order to use it, and since I’m really not a fan of the 35mm FOV, it’s a waste of money for me.

  19. I do have the D800e and Zeiss 35m F2, 100mm f2 and Nikon 50mm f1.8 and 24-70mm. The best in Resolution is the 100mm from 2.2 usable across the frame but with lots of purple fringing till f4. 35mm is good from f4, better f5.6. The Nikon Zoom can be amazing in the center, but out of center need to stop down at least to f5.6. Great contrast and color(I’m a Zeiss fanboy but need to admit this). The Nikon 50 is sharp but not a lot of contrast and poor color, will sell it.
    I had the chance to shoot with Zeiss 50mm 1.4 and few shots with the F2. The 1.4 had an “interesting” and different look. The f2 seemed very comparable to the 35mm f2 in color and contrast, meaning far bette then the 1.4. Pitty I can’t compare them further to the 35m f2.
    Also I would wonder how the 35mm f1.4(or both the new 28mm/25mm) Zeiss would compare to the 35mm f2 at F2.8 and below, so I would not need to stop down to F4 anymore. Any experience here? I shoot people and the eyes are never in the center, and just need to be sharp.

    • The 35/2 is better than the 35/1.4. The 35/1.4 suffers from CA but lacks the biting sharpness of the 100/2 until f2.8 and smaller, which defeats the point if you need that level of image quality.

  20. Thx u so much for your excellent opinions… I was so excited to get my new 105vr macro for my D800E..I have heard that this lens is very sharp..,, but wasn’t aware of the ca u mentioned…So you recommend the 60 over the 105vr for macro/portraits?? Also is the 28 1.8G really that good?? Every one seems to think so…

    • Macro is macro and portraits are portraits. 60G for macro, 85/1.8G for portraits. I like the 28G, but results of course depend on the photographer…

  21. one more question Ming 🙂 , i have noticed that you put Nikon AFS 60/2.8 G Micro as a recommended lens in the normal lens category, excuse my ignorance, should i understand that your prefer it as a normal lens (not macro) than the other 50mm lenses ?? how about far-field and infinity use , aren’t 50mm lenses perform better ?

  22. Fred from afar says:

    Thanks for your review. Interesting that there is not one mention of the old but reliable workhorse, the Nikon 17-35 f2.8 – interesting to hear your thoughts on where that lens will sit among other lenses we have, namely 85 1.4G, 14-24, 50 f1.4D, 70-200 2.8 VRII, 105 micro non VR.
    And two D800E bodies… 🙂

    • Partially because I don’t have one, partially because I didn’t like that lens on the D700 – I doubt it’ll be acceptable on the D800E unless stopped down quite a bit. The list isn’t exhaustive, it’s possible that some lenses aren’t on there because I simply haven’t had a chance to use them.

  23. Thanks Ming! Beautiful pictures! What do you think about Nikon AF-S 105 VR macro lens on this camera?

    • Sharpness is good, but there’s a lot of CA – both lateral and longitudinal. The former goes away on stopping down a bit, the latter doesn’t.

  24. I’m very interested in landscape, i own 16-36 mm lens , is it wise to add Carl Zeiss ZF.2 2/21 Distagon T* to my collection too

  25. THX for your effort and your samples, Ming. I had the 16-35 for my D700 but sold it and got a set of Zeiss instead, including your beloved 21, 28 and 35, which I do love just the same as you. And I got an 18 by chance directly from the Zeiss laboratories, which is extremly good indeed, especially for close up work. It seems to be even the most loved lens in my bag! It is THAT good. 🙂 Do you have any experiences with that lens? If not, I would recommend explicitly to try it out.

    All I can say is, all my Zeiss shines on my D800, even the often disregarded 1.4/50. Having sold the 16-35 mid last year I m thinking about replacing it with another UWA zoom, just for the convenience of using zoom, which is useful sometimes. I was opting for the 14-24 this time, but your strongholdingly defended creed 🙂 makes me think about the 16-35 again, as I have retold to myself all the obvious and known disadvantages of the 14-24 over & over again. When I had it I made several comparison shots with both 16-35 and the mighty 14-24 on my then D700 and the results have never been really that definite as the 14-24 fan boys might have wished for. Inspired by your verdict I might get one second hand and find out myself. A close friend has the 14-24, so it’s easy to compare side by side. If the 14-24 unexpectedly turns out to be that much better it’s easy to sell the 16-35 again and get a 14-24 instead. There are plenty of both on the second hand market. If I lose some buchs, I’ll send you a bill for compensation, Ming. 🙂

    All the best to you!

    • No problem – the Zeisses are the way to go if you’re OK with MF and primes. Haven’t used the 18 because I don’t need anything that wide; the 21 does just fine for me.

      Try both zooms side by side. Look at the corners. That’s all I’m saying. And if you use filters, no need to even think twice…you have no choice. 😛

  26. harold1968 says:

    I have heard good things about the 85mm f1.4g on the D800E. You evidence seems to contradict that
    Folk have compared to the f1.8G and found it doesn’t have the micro contrast, colours or bokeh quality of the f1.4g
    Any reprisal of your view here (have you tested another f1.4g ?)
    Best rgds and thanks for the Flickr pool

    • I honestly hope that some odd combination of focus settings and dud lenses (unlikely, four lenses on as many bodies in many different combinations) was to blame – because the 85/1.4G was possibly my favorite lens ever on the D700. For now, the 85/1.8G remains my preferred lens for this solution, but I’m planning to revisit this later with a new body (let’s give the dust some time to settle) and a different copy of the lens.

  27. Curious what you recommend for the very wide side of things. I’m going out west this fall and there are a few spots that require at least a 16mm on a D800. I want to pick up the Nikon 16-35mm since I can use my existing filters but I thought I might grab a CZ 21/2.8 and maybe rent a CZ 15/2.8. Both of those options would screw me on filters though since I don’t have anything wider than 77mm.

    • Tough call because I seldom go wider than 24/28mm; I do have a CZ 21/2.8 for those times, though – it’s absolutely fantastic. Edge performance is definitely a notch up from the 16-35, but more than that, the microcontrast structure is very delicate and subtle – preserving small tonal gradations well – as opposed to most of the Nikon zooms, which come across as a bit heavy-handed. I haven’t used the 15/2.8 yet though.

  28. I am extremely touched to receive all of your support . Thanks again for your time and attention. Perhaps the rumored Nikon 16-35 f/2.8 will outperform both but when..?..$..?

    • This rumor is news to me…not one of the noises that’s been coming out of my contacts at Nikon.

        • I become the proud owner of Zeiss Planar 100 mm f/2 ZF2. But i have few problem. Although i have DK18 i have a problem with manual focusing. The problem is, of course, much larger when using open aperture (and here’s the other problem. At f/2.0 CA is a big (really) big problem). Yes manual focus confirmation, this is great for studio but in nature??? Also, focus point not working propery-lens calibration???

          I have a bad copy or …?


          • Sounds like focusing errors to me. Try with live view on a tripod and see if the problem persists. The lens will CA if misfocused.

            • Jaz Yes says:

              I wrote to you about my problems with Zeriss Planar 100 mm F/2 ZF2. This time, i sand to you over wetranser 2 sets of images and beg for evaluation copies of my lens.  I am interested in your opinion Thanks in advance.


  29. Hi Ming,
    Your site is very helpful and informative with great reviews.
    14-24 f/2.8 is a great lens but no wonder it may not be an excellent choice with D800/E . 70-200mm f/2.8 IF-ED was a wonderful and legendry lens but people did’nt found it great with D700 and D3 and Nikon came out with another superb 70-200 mm VR2. 16-35 f/4 is the only other wide angle zoom option from Nikon and as you choose this one over 14-24. May I ask you is it really wonderful with D800 like 85mm f/1.8. How would you rate it with D800, fair, good or excellent. Have you tried 24-120 f/4.

    • Thanks Rabbie. If the 85/1.8 G is a 9.5, the 16-35 would be an 8.5-9 – hope that helps. No, haven’t used the 24-120 – not a useful range for me, and it’s slow.

      • Ming thanks for the reply and yes it helps a lot. I was leaning towards 14-24 due to it’s low distortion, extra 2 mm, fast aperture and clean images from centre to extreme on D700 but never liked it’s bulbous glass, inability to take filters, shabby lens cap and henious flares.
        I never doubted the centre performance of 16-35 VR but have concerns about border and extreme. From all your inputs I assume that border and corner performance of 16-35VR is better or at least at par with 14-24 on D800. Right ? If this is the case then 16-35 is the way to go.
        I will appreciate your invaluable comment if any.

        • To be honest, the optics were excellent on the D3, but the balance was not, and the front element really scared me too – especially because it was just way too easy to get too close to something and whack it with the lens.

          I’ve tested a couple of each 16-35 and 14-24, so far the corners of all are about the same – but as people have pointed out, there is some sample variation, and the D800/E is a lot less tolerant of minor decentering than previous cameras were. I would highly recommend that you test the lens you’re going to buy in person before you do, or buy it from somewhere that takes returns – Amazon, for instance.

  30. Scott McLoughlin says:

    With the performance of Zeiss manual focus lenses on the D800E, have you ventured yet to outfit your camera with a manual focusing screen, screen/mirror adjustment, etc.?

    I’m quite happy with manually focusing lenses, but only with my Leica M and Nikon FM3a bodies with their respective RF or contrasty ground-glass plus split prism focusing aids.

    OTOH, focusing through a typical DLSR screen without appropriate visual feedback (green dots or arrows don’t count) slow at best, and well, pretty much a combination of the very worst of AF and MF focusing methods.

    • I want to – my D700 has adjusted mirror zero position, focusing screen shims and a custom cut screen (F6 type J) – but I haven’t been able to find a large enough donor screen to file down to size; it seems the D800 has the largest screen Nikon has ever fitted to an SLR.

      • Actually, perhaps just roughing up a standard D800 screen a bit more with some fine grit sand paper might work…the problem is Nikon isn’t selling them as spare parts or accessories.

  31. Hi Ming,
    Have you tried the 85mm 1.4D on the D800? Does it perform well? Thanks in advance!

    • Nope, but I do know the 85/1.4 G outperforms the D by some margin even on the lower resolution cameras; even that doesn’t do so well on the D800. I’d look at the 1.8G…

  32. I have just started following your website and it is wonderful. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I have a question about how you would rank your recommended D800E lenses within each category. Within the teles, how does the Zeiss 100/2 compare to the Nikon 85/1.8? Issues of different focal lengths and macro vs non-macro aside, does the Zeiss provide an image quality advantage for the extra money? Same question in the normal range comparing the Zeiss 50/2 to the Nikon 60 and 45. I saw your answer posted above about the wide lenses already. Thank you again. An invaluable website.

    • Thanks for your compliments. Difficult to compare the two lenses – the Zeiss is a macro, the 85 is not. At near distances – say below 1.5m – the Zeiss is clearly superior. It holds up well at longer distances too, but is much harder to focus accurately because the focus throw above about 2m is very, very short. Both lenses are excellent and keep up with the sensor resolution of the D800E into the edges; if not at maximum aperture then very close to it.

      The Nikon 60 is a bit less LoCA prone than the Zeiss 50, but it’s not quite as sharp until stopped down a bit more. The 45 is excellent in the center, but suffers from some field curvature which means you need to center focus and then shift to reframe. It’s remarkably free of both LCA and LoCA.

  33. Christian says:

    Hope you also had good weather in the Vallee du Joux – it is a nice place though. Spend quite some time of my childhood there.

    • I had bipolar weather – the first two days were miserable; raining and 5C. The last day was absolutely glorious; 25C and with those Magritte-esque clouds I’m rather fond of. I can see why people would want to live here, though I was told winter is probably best avoided unless masochistic.

      • Christian says:

        It used to be very cold in winter 30 years ago with tons of snow and closed roads. Theses days winter is often rainy with some cold periods in between.

  34. Thanks for sharing your findings!
    I wonder about the 50mm 1.8 and 1.4, though.

    • Wasn’t happy with either lens in the D version, or the 1.4 G. The 1.8G is not bad, but not great, either. I haven’t used any of them extensively on the D800E, so I didn’t want to make a judgement.

  35. Hi Ming,
    just to complete my comment above: it’ was shot on the D7000.

  36. Interesting. The 16-35mm is complete garbage and on a D800, the corners become even more blatantly soft. The 14-24 is sharp to the corners even at 14mm. I would send your 14-24 for adjustment because it is pretty well known that it is not just a little sharper edge to edge, but much sharper edge to edge than the 16-35. I’ve owned both for at least 2 years, but I’m selling the 16-35 as soon as it comes back from Nikon for a cleaning. It is the one big regret I have in all of my purchases.

    • You might have a dud. I’ve tested four of them and they were all consistent – just as I acknowledge that both the 14-24s I tested might be duds too. But I’d personally pick the 16-35 over the 14-24.

      • Agreed! 16-35 is by far the sharpest nikon lens I own, it performs marvelously on D800E. However, I do not have the 14-24 for comparison.

      • Well I know it is a not a dud. I have never seen anyone’s images from it with sharp corners and I knew this before I bought it, but thought it would be okay. Since I primarily used it for landscape, it was really distracting. If the center is all you need for other types of photography, it would be a good lens. Nikon’s MTF claims are usually very close and they are definitely a hell of a lot better on the 14-24 edges with Nikon’s own measurements found on their website. You should definitely try another 14-24 as it is without a doubt the sharpest ultra wide angle made by any manufacture. The 16-35 is also the only lens I have ever had that had to be sent into Nikon because the focus ring started getting choppy. It is a very cheap feeling lens.

      • I agree with Clint, Nikon 16-35mm is no competition to the 14-24mm or to Tokina AT-X 16-28mm Pro FX:

        • Try using them in person, and test several samples. I think you’d be surprised by just how good the 16-35 is. That said, I’d go with the Zeiss 21 Distagon over any of these without hesitation.

      • I did, this comparison was done by me today. The store where I bought it does not have another copy, I will have to return it (and try to get another somewhere else). Anyway, I here various opinions on Nikon 16-35mm (too much of a copy-variation)

        • One of the reasons most good lenses cost what they do is because of quality control and precision required to hit the design spec. There are some designs that are completely indifferent to poor alignment, and others that only sing when the tolerances are silly. Wides are the worst culprits because of the nature of the physics involved…

      • If the Nikon 16-35mm can do better as my copy, then it didn’t work out this time, which is sad:
        Nikon is 1000€, Tokina 700€ over here.

  37. How about the new 25mm f/2 from Zeiss?? I’ve read it’s one of the sharpest lens of zeiss by some reviewers, wondering how does it performs on the D800E. Also, is there a write up that I missed regarding manual focusing for D800 using the viewfinder? Will be please that you can share some of your experience and techniques regarding manual focusing using the viewfinder. Cheers.

    • Not had a chance to use it yet – there aren’t any here at the moment. As for manually focusing the D800 – for critical focus, I use live view. I haven’t found a big enough donor screen to fit the D800 yet. The Canon EE-S for 5DII might work, but I haven’t had a chance to try it out (nor can I find the dimensions anywhere.)

  38. Aside from AF, what are differences between AFS 28mm 1.8g vs. zf.2 2/28mm Distagon?
    Does the 28mm 1.8g have “character” and microcontrast [as Zeiss]?

  39. I’m considering the zf.2 35mm 1.4
    Did you have a chance to use with D800e?
    Thank you.

  40. You mentioned the Nikon AFS 24-70/2.8 and it’s a great lens but I have a concern about the flare. Shooting backlight (and I do it a lot) it creates a big weird flare. Look at this example, please (you can neglect the link in my message if you want):

    • That’s pretty spectacular – were you using the hood or a filter? I’ve seen some flare from this lens, but nowhere near that degree. I personally don’t mind flare because it’s quite atmospheric, but I can see why it’d be a serious problem.

      • I agree, i like the atmospheric feeling but lots of rounded shapes are strange.
        No filter, same effect using the hood if the light source is in my sight.

        • Very odd. I’ll go through my archives and see if I’ve ever had the same, but honestly, I don’t remember it flaring that badly. Can’t think why it’d only do it on the D800 and not all cameras though.

  41. Vincent L says:

    Ming, thank you for putting this list together. Both you and Lloyd Chambers seem to have some agreement on the “right” glass for the D800(E). It’s very helpful to have some real hands-on perspective beyond the usual test charts and lab data.

    It’s interesting to see the very limited list of lenses that live up to the requirements of the D800E. Since receiving mine a few days ago I’ve been rethinking my entire lens lineup. For future lenses Nikon will really need to put more emphasis into autofocus accuracy as well as compensating for focus shift. With higher than 36MP sensors coming there is no point in sharper optics if the focus precision is poor. Some photographers may be able to manual focus or use LV but shoot moving subjects so AF is a requirement. Perhaps Nikon should just move all future DSLR’s to the focus system of the V1 and solve all the AF accuracy issues once and for all.

    I had previously sold my 24-70 f/2.8 and moved to the 1.4G primes. However, due to prominent focus shift with the 1.4 primes I just re-purchased another 24-70 for the better focus precision.

    • I had no idea, haven’t seen his list of recommendations yet. I’m sure there are other lenses that fit the bill which I haven’t tried on this camera (I suspect the new Zeiss 15/2.8 would work well, along with the 35/2).

      Wouldn’t be surprised if there’s imaging sensor-based CDAF in the works for future cameras; if I’m not mistaken they actually filed a patent for having photo sites built into the imaging sensor specifically for AF use not too long ago.

      The 24-70 surprised me, because whilst I thought it was good from the outset, I didn’t think it out resolved the f1.4G primes. Sure, you can get comparable results between primes and zooms at 2.8, but what’s the point in paying for two more stops you can’t really use?

  42. Typo! The Nikkor weighs 380g, not 280g!

  43. Hello Ming,

    You helped me once previously via email. (Thanks again for that.) I have been using an M8 for 5 years, but think I may experiment with a D600 when it’s released. I have been reading up on several manual lenses for it, including the Nikkor 50mm 1.2 AIS and the Zeiss 50mm 1.4 planar. These lenses interest me because they seem quite good, are pretty affordable, AND are not too large/heavy. (These lenses weigh about 280 and 330 grams, respectively.) Do you have any thoughts on either of these lenses? Also, I would likely get a manual 35mm lens, but–again–wouldn’t want it to be large/heavy.

    Thanks for any help you can provide,


    • No problem. The problem isn’t the lenses, it’s that modern AF cameras have focusing screens optimized for brightness with slow zooms, not focusing snap with manual lenses. I don’t really like either of your choices; the 50/1.2 isn’t too bad, but I don’t think it’ll be up to par on higher resolution FX bodies unless used stopped down; the Zeiss 50/1.4 is pretty poor with ugly bokeh. I’d go with the Zeiss 2/35 Distagon and Zeiss 2/50 Makro Planar (both are excellent lenses) if you want manual focus.

  44. Hi Ming, I have the same experience with my 14-24 (on my D800), but I see this is due to front focus issues at 14 mm when using the viewfinder. Did you test the 14-24 using live view, or the viewfinder?

  45. RE the 28-300, I found it depressingly blurry after I got the D800E two days ago. However I need this thing for kids photos (when going out with kids, changing lenses is not really an option), so I tried to find out why. The fact of the matter is that when I put it on the tripod and test various focal lengths via a remote release, the resolution results are actually good: as you observed before microcontrast is not that great, but definitely sharp and workable. So my current suspicion is that for some reason, this thing is just hard to focus on the D800E. Could it be because of the light path differences, or somehow VR works less well, than on the D800? No idea. But in the outing today I have some shape-at-1:1 photos taken in the 130-200 range, at about 1/2000 sec. At lower speeds, results are very mixed. So this seems to corroborate the theory.

    • I found the same thing and sold mine not long ago. Whilst it was surprisingly good on the D800, it was pretty bad under most circumstances on the D800E – no idea why there should be this much of a difference between the two bodies. Perhaps, as you say, it’s down to focusing issues – or perhaps minor VR jiggles being about the same frequency or displacement as a pixel, and enough to show some blur. I’m guessing you know enough to turn off VR if the shutter speed is high, or you’re on a tripod. I was getting very mixed results, unless as you say shutter speeds were very high. And the reality is that the shooting envelope would be so small, the lens wouldn’t be very useful.

  46. David Ralph says:

    Thank your for your thoughts. I shall keep the Zeiss in mind. The next wide angle can wait until I get the D800E, which for me will mean waiting just a bit more to see if early production issues with focus, alignment, etc. get sorted out. I already feel as if the 14-24 is going to find a new home. This is the second time Nikon has disappointed me with one of its newer lenses. I traded my Version I 70-200 VR in for Version II when full frame sensors came out. Yet, the 70-200 was obtained in anticipation of FX coming, and then it flunked the test when it arrived. Oh well, they are just tools, aren’t they? Good night to your good morning on the other side of the globe, here in East Coast America.

  47. David Ralph says:

    I am curious if you have any theory or supposition as to the cause of the 14-24mm failing on the D800E after it has done so well on cameras with fewer pixels, both Nikon and Canon. Is it an curved field of focus at the sensor? Or, perhaps the focus shift and consequent loss of resolution which results when it is stopped down, at least according to Digital Lloyd. Lloyd finds the 14-24 to be sharpest wide open, with a theory that stopping down cuts down on the outer light rays on a lens which was optimized for wide open apertures and that the centermost rays focus in front of the where the outermost rays focus, given that focusing usually occurs with the lens wide open, as diaphragm stops down only during the exposure and that is when focus is shifted. You are not the first person on the web who has found the 14-24 lacking on the D800.

    I have the 14-24mm, and I struggled for quite a while trying to decide which very wide lens to get for my D700 before I opted for it. On the D700, it has been very sharp with no apparent faults. With a D800/E in my future, I feel that whole decision process about wide angle lenses coming back to haunt me.

    • Absolutely no idea, other than the obvious ‘more pixels requires more resolving power’ – and the D800E has the highest resolving power at the edges of any Nikon mount camera to date. The center portion isn’t the problem – if it was, the D3200 would show issues before the D800E does – it’s the border and edge zones. It was an amazing lens on the 12MP cameras, but they were pretty forgiving because of their enormous pixels.

      I’d suggest looking at the 16-35 or Zeiss ZF 21/1.8 Distagon as alternatives for the D800E. The latter has absolutely beautiful microcontrast, but slightly heavy vignetting (though this is easily fixable in ACR.)

      • David Ralph says:

        That 16-35 is starting to look good again. It was the runner up back when I chose the 14-24. Lens speed, sharpness on the sensors of the day, and the extreme extra two millimeters of wideness seduced me. The Zeiss sound like superb lenses, especially since I like to do landscapes where one can take time with focus; in many other situations, manual focus can be a pain on digital focus screens. With no easy route to putting different focusing screen in the D800 (I tend to avoid my manual focus lenses, legacy Nikkors, except for macro shots), I lean toward the AFS these days. Perhaps the Katzeye folks will make a replacement focusing screen for the D800s.

        • Indeed. I’d seriously look at the Zeiss 21/2.8 if you don’t mind a fixed FL, though. Manual focusing isn’t too bad actually, better than the stock D700. D3 screens were…

      • I think David has given the explanation why in some situations the 14-24 is considered to be inferior to i.e. the 16-35. It is focus shift (, NOT sample variation. I own both lenses and have shot lots of pics in comparison. If you avoid the problem of focus shift (shoot wide open, focus at the shooting aperture, autofocus compensation etc.) the results are just outstanding. Without knowing that you think the lens is blurry in some situations – a bad sample. Many reviews say that it is best at infinity and stopped down. This is the reason. DxOMark says it is best at 16mm f2.8. The reason is most probably that stopped down at the same distance setting it is not sharp any more when you shoot a test chart. It significantly improves if you stop down. So, it cannot be best at f2.8.

        • Jaz Yes says:

          Can you propose wide lens for reversed macro. Maybe some old model (aperture ring on lens).  


          • Bad idea for the D800E. Won’t have enough resolution as this wasn’t what the lenses were designed and optimized for. You might as well just buy an AI 55/2.8 macro instead…

  48. Thanks Ming! I have the D800E and agree with your list for the large part. I have many of the lenses you recommend 28/1.8, ZF50/2, ZF100/2, 60G, 85/1.8G, 24-70, 70-200VR2, 200/2 but with the exception of the ZF100 and 200/2 I would not to use them wide open on the D800E (unless I absolutely have to) like I freely did on the D3. I’m finding the 28/1.8G plus 85/1.8G an outstanding compact combo on the E.
    I have to disagree with you on the 14-24 I think it’s superb on the D800E even at 14mm. I’m also getting good results from the 50/1.8G (at f/5.6) and 24/1.4 (f/2.8 on) if the edges do not have to be critically sharp.
    I’m surprised you didn’t include 85/1.4G and ZF85/1.4 lenses I don’t have but which you mention were two of your favorites.

    • Hi JP, The list is for lenses that can be used wide open in the center with confidence, and with reasonable confidence in the border zones. You might have one of those good 14-24mms – the ones I tested were all a bit borderline at the edges, which is why it’s on the near misses list. If I have to stop down the 24/1.4 to f2.8 before it’s good, why pay for the extra two stops of speed?

      As for the 85/1.4G – none of the six copies I’ve tried on D800 or D800E work that well, though they are better on D800E than D800. There’s a lot of both longitudinal and lateral CA until f2.8 or so; the 85/1.8G is much better as it will produce clean edges even wide-open at f1.8 in the corners. The ZF 85/1.4 is still in testing (I’m waiting for a replacement as my test unit wasn’t as good as the first one I had on my D700.)

      • Hi Ming, I do not think that there are so many duds around as you want to make us believe. It cannot be that you have tested 6 1.4/85 being all bad. That is impossible.

        • Then the only other conclusion is that the lens just doesn’t work well on the D800E…but of course if you don’t believe that, then you have to ask yourself what motivation I have to say otherwise…

          • Yes, you’re right. It seems that one has to explore most lenses once again when using a D800E. Even compared to a D800. Right?

  49. Stephen Lewis says:

    Have you or any of your readers tried an AI Nikkor 35mm 2.0 on the 800E? If so, have you found it up to standard?

  50. Ming,
    Discouraging news for your two favorite AF lenses to miss the cut. (24 & 85 1.4)
    What do you do now for your cinematic people shots when you need AF?
    Will you have to use the 1.8 versions instead? (28&85). The 1.8s probably won’t have the same Tstop to let in as much light to the sensor… and I wonder if they draw as nicely?

    • Yes, I’m using the 1.8s. 24 vs 28 – not a big difference in DoF, because of the increased focal length. And the T stops are actually pretty similar – both around 1.7 – so no big deal.

      The 85, on the other hand, loses about 2/3 of a T stop for the same given aperture; the bokeh however is equally beautiful, and drawing just as fine. Depending on the application, I might also use the Zeiss 2/100 Makro Planar instead.

  51. ming, very interesting list. what do you think about the cheap nikon 50 1.8g for the d800e?
    thanks for your site and for share.

  52. Your site is wonderful. Thank you for bringing so many interesting topics. Regarding the lenses, what is your opinion for Leica R’s lenses ? Especially with D800…

    • Thanks! I don’t have any R lenses…

      • I have an Elmarit 135mm 3Cam made in Canada probably from 80s.
        Personally I would say it’s sharp, less saturated but has a good micro contrast, blueish under shadow and prone to flare.
        A good lens but not native to Nikon, different focus ring rotation, no diaphragm to body coupling. It’s not a lens for everybody. I love it but I would exchange it with CZ 135mm for practical reason.

        • There are some excellent R optics but they all require permanent mount conversions – this makes me nervous as the 100APO is in the US3k range these days – of course, the options are myriad and it’s impossible to try every single combination.

    • Well, I use the APO Elmarit 2.8/100 and the APO Summicron 2/180 on a D800 using an Leitax adapter.

      I use both mostly for portraits. The 2.8/100 might be too sharp for that. You see EVERY detail of the skin and eyes.
      The 180 is not any softer even at f2 😉 But shows exceptional bokeh.

      There also the outstanding APO 4/280. I think these three lenses a worth a look.

      Both lenses perform outstanding.

      On eBay (Germany) you get the APO 2.8/100 for 1300-1500$. An incredible value.

      • People keep saying good things about these lenses; I’ve yet to be able to try one (I’ve got friends who have them, but they won’t let me switch out the bayonets). It’s not really a simple solution for most people because some DIY work is required, which is why they’re not on the list. But I’m sure the results are great…

      • To make things clearer. The bayonet modifications are reversible. In case of the 2/180 there are only 6 screws to pull and to change the bayonet ring. Takes about 10 mins. Forth and back. No special skills necessary.

        For those who still have those marvels around like me a reasonably priced option to get them work on a Nikon body.

        From my experience the following Leica-R lenses are worth considering the modification:

        Elmarit-R 2.8/19, APO Macro Elmarit-R 2.8/100, APO Elmarit-R 2.8/180, APO Summicron-R 2/180, APO-Telyt-R 4/280, Vario-APO-Elmarit-R 70-180/2.8 and of course the more exotic module system.

        You won’t be disappointed.

  53. This is a wonderful comprehensive list of lens’ for the D800E. But I can’t find your opinions about the D800 (I admit I’m selfishly curious), how would this change your above list aside from your mention of the 28-300 which is STILL on back-order! So really two questions here, what would you amend about the above list for the D800, and why is the 28-300 on back-order? Though I don’t expect you to have any answer to the second question…

    • Thanks. Just the 28-300. Could be because they’re producing the 18-300 on the same line, or it could be because they’ve been snapped up by all of the D800 buyers after my review haha…

  54. I’m in a decision-making phase at the moment. I gave my D70 to my sister. I only have the X100 now. For long, I have been wanting a Nikon full-frame, but I also know that I want a camera that is easy to take anywhere. I miss the longer focal lengths that X100 can not provide.

    Your praised talks about the OM-D E-M5 has given me something to think about. Do I go this road instead of a full-frame. After all, I am only an amateur that spends much more time reading on the web about camera gear, than actually shooting photos.

    I could have chosen a D7000 over a used D700, but now the D600 seems to be what I want. But the Olympus seems to produce amazing pictures, and not the least provide enough DOF, given it’s ‘tiny’ sensor.

    I will be following your site. Now I at least know which lenses to go for, if I go the m4/3 way.

    Best regards

    PS: And I can not imagine living without a Nikon.

    • Thanks for your compliments!

      Wait for the 600 (I’m told it’ll be very cheap, but not as well built as the 700 or 800) – but I really like the OM-D too.

      Or, crazy idea, what about a used 700?

  55. danilew says:

    I love the light on the pears and sushi! And I’m surprised that the 14-24 failed.

    • Thanks. The 14-24 isn’t as good as the 16-35 or 21/2.8 zeiss, so it didn’t make the list…

      • DxOMark score of the Nikon 2.8/14-24 is 29. Best at f=16mm & f/2.8.

        “Scoring close to 10-percent more than rivals, the AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8G ED is the best performing lens of the group”

        “Taking first place in our ranking when mounted on the Nikon D800, the AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED is an outstanding performer”

        “The loss of sharpness from the centre, a problem with most wide-angle lenses at maximum aperture, is well controlled on the Nikkor 14-24mm, better even than the firm’s newer 16-35mm VR model. ”

        DxOMark score of the Nikon 4/16-35 is 24. Best at f=24mm & f/4.
        DxOMark score of the Zeiss 2.8/15 is 27.
        DxOMark score of the Zeiss 3.5/18 is 22.
        DxOMark score of the Zeiss 2.8/21 is 25.

        All mounted on a D800 body.

        I think this is more or less a question of your personal taste…

        • It’s also a question of sample variation – since there’s no way to know how many lenses DXO tested, and I do know that there’s enough variation between samples to make a significant difference – I take their results with a pinch of salt. If I find an anomaly, I’ll get another sample. I’ve used at least two of each to check consistency, in some cases more (the 24/1.4, for instance – there’s a definite variation caused by decentering; I’ve tested no less than six from very different batches, and five of them showed various forms of astigmatism on the D800E).

          • Well yes, the fairy tale of sample variation. Can there still be any reviews of cars, bicycles, sound equipment, cameras, lenses and so on. They all have sample variation. Nasim Mansurov has reviewed the Nikon 28-300. It was pretty bad as already expected. A reader wrote him that he has a “golden sample” and was willing to send it to him for testing and did it. Nasim did exactly the same tests on that lens as he did on his sample – and surprisingly got the same results…

            I have the 14-24 and the 16-35. I think it is not possible to rate those lenses any more without describing the whole workflow. I shoot RAW and develop in DxO Optics Pro 8 (and Lightroom 4.4). Both apps have precise lens profiles for the two lenses that remove any distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberration in a second. DxO furthermore analyses the photo and compensates softness towards the corners, removes noise according the ISO from the EXIF data and increases microcontrast automatically. The slider for the microcontrast is extremely sophisticated and often compared to Lightroom’s slider for clarity but in my opinion even more powerful. I even think you get more microcontrast out of your Nikon lenses’ raw data with DxO than you get from your Zeiss lenses using ACR and PS. Try it.
            Still, the lenses are different. The DxOMark shows already the 16-35 is optimized in the middle focal length 24mm while the 14-24 for it’s lower end at 16mm. After the whole raw development the 16-35 gets very close to the 14-24 without ever reaching it.
            There is also an interesting review at between the 14-24 and the Zeiss 2.8/15 (and the Samyang 2.8/15). It shows basically that the Zeiss is better at f2.8 in the centre but has already less sharpness and contrast in the center at f5.6 and is significantly outperformed at f8 in the corners.

            Using the workflow above the 16-35 is one of may favorite lenses (along with the 4/70-200 and the pancake 2.8/45P). However, you are definitely off the track not putting the 14-24 on the list.

  56. A book could be written here. Subject and creative style makes this more vague than sharpness alone.
    Although I haven’t shot the Nikon 45 the Voigtlander 40 has better specs and is quite beautiful. The Nikkor doesn’t
    have a good reputation except for size so I am surprised its included.

  57. Nice list! Now an article on the OM-D EM-5 lens list as a back up to replace the work of the D800E 🙂

    • Oh, that’s a short one – 12/2, 20/1.7, 45/1.8 and 45/2.8 macro. I actually usually pack a F-M43 adaptor and the 12mm instead; I can use the Zeiss 21 and 50/2 in place of the latter three lenses, plus I only need to carry one set of glass.

      • Why skip the Pan 25/1.4. I find it a very good lens, and faster focusing compared to the 20/1.7 despite the obvious size difference on the OMD.

        Do you find obvious optical differences with using the Zeiss lenses via adapter compared to native m43?

        • Because I already have the 20 – and the size is an advantage.

          As for the ZFs – it lets me use just one set of lenses instead of carrying around extras. Microcontrast and color are better than native glass, but the problem is that not all designs are tele centric so there can be some Purple fringing issues.

      • Thanks for the reply, I’m asking myself if the OMD and lenses can be my main system alone 🙂
        That may be fun… Perhaps the next generation one!

  58. Did you ever try nikon 135 f 2 dc and afd 85 f 1.8 with d800e ? i am considering both of lenses with afa 85 2.8 and afs 85 f 1.8.

  59. The AFS 85/1.8 G is one of the recommended lenses. Not used the other two.


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