A guide to Zeiss lens choices for Sony FE

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The challenge we have now is no longer one of insufficient lenses: it’s almost one of too many. Having spent the last few months navigating the options and trying to figure out which of them work best for me, I now feel qualified to write this post which will a) explain the differences, b) make some recommendations both for the various series of lenses and within them as a whole. It’s worth noting that these comments and lens options apply to mirrorless cameras in general, though I’ve chosen Sony FE specifically because a) I own the A7RII, and b) there are several ‘native mount’ options that are available for Sony that aren’t for other systems – the first three on the list for starters, and won’t adapt because they require electronics*. I do honestly wish they’d thought out some of the naming better, though – it just lands up being both confusing for photographers and a bit of nightmare for their marketing team.

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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

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

Normal
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

Tele
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

Zooms
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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