Best lenses for the Nikon D5300: Part 2 - portrait and landscape

By Kevin Carter - Thursday January 23 2014

Lens Recommendations
Introduction | Best Portrait primes (moderate telephoto) | Best Landscape primes (wide-angle) | Best wide-angle zooms

The top three performing moderate telephoto models include the Zeiss Otus 1,4/55, equivalent to a 85mm on the D5300, followed by Nikon’s two 85mm models, the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f1.8G and f1.4G.

Not much separates the two 85mm (130mm equivalent) models in IQ, but it’s worth bearing in mind the 85mm f1.4 is nearly a stop faster than the f1.8 model and it yet it has the higher peak sharpness.

Carl Zeiss Distagon T* Otus 1.4/55 ZF.2 Nikon39993521
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G6903117
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G21993018
Sigma 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM Nikon9692713
Carl Zeiss Planar T 85mm f/1.4 ZF2 Nikon12802615
Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Aspherique IF Nikon3282615
Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D3292515
Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF12302515
Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D4602415
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G4482414
Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM Nikon4992414
Tamron SP 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 VC USD Nikon7492413
Sigma 70mm F2.8 EX DG Macro Nikon4992412
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G2192315
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G17002315
Tamron SP AF 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO Nikon4602311
Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T 50mm f/2 ZF2 Nikon12802216
Nikon AF Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D4602213
Tamron SP AF 60mm F/2 Di II LD [IF] MACRO Nikon4992115
Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D1342113

Although in real terms it’s a small increase. Peak performance is achieved at f4 on the 85mm f1.4 and f5.6 on the f1.8 model but even then it can’t quite match the faster model’s sharpness. 

Peak performance is achieved at f4 on the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f1.4G model, whereas the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f1.8G must be stopped down to f5.6 and even then it can’t quite match the pricier model (though it’s very close).

Best performing model:

The best performing moderate telephoto on the D5300 is also the highest performing lens in the database, regardless of focal length. And at nearly $4,000, so it should be. As the equivalent of a 85mm lens on the D5300, the Otus 1,4/55 may seem well suited but keep in mind the lens is very large, about the same size as 135mm f2 or 24-70mm f2.8.

It’s also incredibly sharp at the initial aperture, and it may even be just too sharp for portraits, unless your model has flawless skin. In fact, wide-open it’s just slightly sharper in the center than either the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f1.4 or the 85mm f1.8 at their optimum apertures. Maximal sharpness is achieved at f2.8-4, but even stopped down below that it has exceptional sharpness and uniformity. Lateral chromatic aberration is a little higher than we’ve seen previously on full-frame models although it is consistent with other APS-C camera models.

Value Option

More in keeping with the modest price of the camera body itself, the manual focus only Samyang 85mm f1.4 Aspherical IF is a very good performer and is available for around $330. Wide-open at f1.4 it has similar sharpness and uniformity to the far pricier Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f1.4 and with the exception of some soft corners at f2 it has good sharpness across the frame throughout the aperture range. Transmission is a little lower than expected but chromatic aberration is very low indeed.

Another good performer is the now discontinued Nikkor AF 85mm f1.8D – it lacks a built-in AF motor and useful real time manual override but once stopped down to f2.8 it has similar sharpness to the newer AF-S version. It can even boast lower CA and vignetting. If those models are a bit ‘long’, the old AF Nikkor 50mm f1.4D could be useful. Although officially replaced by the AF-S model it can still be found on dealer’s shelves for around $330. As an AF-D model it lacks the built-in AF actuator of the newer version but it’s good performer optically, particularly from f4 onwards.