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The best lenses for your Nikon D600

By Kevin Carter - Wednesday May 15 2013

Lens Recommendations
Wide Angles and Telephotos | Standard zooms and primes | Introduction | General Overview

As a group ‘standard’ lenses are versatile and rightly popular and as a result Nikon and third-party rivals offer a very wide choice. Within this group, we’ve looked at 35 models over the range of 40mm to a maximum focal length of 135mm. For the sake of clarity, we’ve divided that group into sections where we have reviewed eight primes between 40 and 50mm, 16 moderate telephotos with a focal length of between 70 to 135mm and then 11 zooms.

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With DxOMark scores approaching 40 points, the highest performing lenses of the group, and indeed of all focal lengths, are the 85-100mm models

Image Quality Overview 

50mm lenses

 
Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM Nikon49932
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G44832
Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D32932
Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T 50mm f/2 ZF2 Nikon128031
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G21931
Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D13428
Carl Zeiss Planar T 50mm f/1.4 ZF2 Nikon72525
With a DxO Mark score of 32, three models occupy the top slot for normal lenses on the Nikon D600

If you’re looking for a ‘normal’ lens, one that approximates the field of view of the human eye (although the technical definition describes a lens with a focal length close to that of diagonal of the picture frame) then look no further than the Sigma’s 1.4 EX DG. It is the dearest of the trio at the top and is highly regarded for its image rendering, especially defocused areas. However, Nikon’s AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G scores similarly and is $50 cheaper.

One particularly interesting point to note of is that mounted on the D600, the first five in the list achieved exactly the same DxO Mark score as they did on the higher pixel count D800, and the other two achieve a DxO Mark score of just 1 point less on the D600 than the D800.

This proves that despite the lower pixel count the D600 can achieve similar results to the far pricier D800.

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The older film-era Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D is still a good choice if lens speed and price are paramount.

If budget is a concern then Nikon’s older f/1.4D (AF-D) model is an option. It lacks the SWM type internal motor of the newer AF-S version but is available for substantially less.

Perhaps the best budget choice is Nikon’s f1.8D model. It also lacks an internal AF motor but at $134 (on average) and a DXO Mark score of 31, it shouldn’t be overlooked.

Moderate telephotos

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G219940
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G69040
Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T 100mm f/2 ZF2 Nikon184036
Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Aspherique IF Nikon32836
Sigma 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM Nikon96934
Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF123032
Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED89032
Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D46031
Nikon AF DC-Nikkor 105mm f/2D109931
Carl Zeiss Planar T 85mm f/1.4 ZF2 Nikon128029
Sigma 70mm F2.8 EX DG Macro Nikon49929
Sigma 105mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM Nikon96928
Tamron SP AF 90mm F/2.8 Di MACRO Nikon46028
Sigma 105mm F2.8 EX DG Macro Nikon64028
The best scoring lenses of the group are the new Nikon 85mm AF-S models

With the recent updates to the optical design and addition of SWM (ultrasonic type) AF motors, the Nikon AF-S 85mm lenses are very tempting. They also top our database as the highest performing lenses on the D600, both scoring 40 points. 

Like the ‘normal’ lenses (above) when mounted on the D600, the first four in the list achieved exactly the same DxO Mark score as they did on the higher pixel count D800, and most of the others achieve a score of just 1 point less.

As for Sharpness, the 85mm f/1.4 Nikkor scored 22M-Pix on the D800 vs 20M-Pix on the D600 however the f/1.8 achieved exactly the same score of 19P-Mpix as did the Zeiss Makro-Planar with 17-P-Mpix.

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Best value moderate teles are the Nikon AF-S 85mm f1.8G and Samyang 85mm f/1.4.

If the budget can’t extend to Nikon’s $2,199 AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G, then the new f1.8G at a more accessible $690 is a sound choice. Except for the faster maximum aperture and more durable build, it has similar features and is close in performance.

The Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Aspherical IF also stands out for its optical quality and rock-bottom price ($328), but bear in mind this lens is manual focus only.

Standard Zooms 

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED180027
Tamron SP 24-70mm F2.8 Di VC USD Nikon129927
Nikon AF Zoom-Nikkor 24-85mm f/2.8-4D IF70023
Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 IF EX DG HSM Nikon89923
Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 24-120mm f/4G ED130022
Tamron SP AF 28-75mm F/2.8 XR Di LD Aspherical [IF] Nikon49922
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR59922
Nikon AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G IF-ED29921
Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED60018
Nikon’s AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8G ED and the new Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VCD sit at the top of the zoom models tested, but it’s always worth looking at the test results

 

Nikon’s AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8G ED is the best performing of the zoom models tested due its consistent performance throughout the range of focal lengths. But, don’t overlook the new Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 VCD. That model achieves the same score overall and is both cheaper and lighter and boasts image stabilisation, a feature sorely missing off the Nikkor.

Both the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 and Tamron have similar Lens Metric scores with the exception of the Nikon which has high levels of chromatic aberration throughout the range except at 70mm.  The upgraded Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED has lower sharpness overall and still quite high levels of CA but the addition of VR (image stabilisation) and smaller size not to mention the $599 ticket makes this attractive.

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The Tokina 24-70mm f2.8 and Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED are good options on a budget

Also worth considering is the AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f4G ED VR. With a DxOMark score of 22 that lens has good image quality plus VR and a much greater reach for head and shoulder portraits.

 

Conclusion

With improving sensor performance makers are now concentrating on designing lenses to compliment. It’s quite clear that many of the older mid-range film-era lenses can no longer keep pace that though the higher-end lenses of the same period can still be up to the task. 

Choosing newer models will reward the user with the sharpness levels that are expected from a high-resolution sensor such as that adopted by the Nikon D600.

In fact, the results reveal the sensor to be capable of maximising the potential of any lens fitted to it, while in some cases offering the equivalent level of sharpness when using the same lens mounted on the Nikon D800.

This reinforces the fact that if you’re on a budget, and don’t need some of the other features of that model, the Nikon D600 is a superb choice.