Which lenses for your Nikon D800?

By David Newton - Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lens Recommendations
Introduction | 24 Mpix to 36 Mpix, is there any good reasons to switch? | Nikon D800 and standard lens choices | The Nikon D800 and telephoto lenses | The Nikon D800 and wide-angle lenses

In this final section of the Nikon D800 lens test review, we’ll be looking at the wide-angle lenses. For clarity, we are classing any lens with a focal length up to 35mm as wide-angle. Within this we have broken lenses down into the ultra-wides with focal lengths below 21mm, wide-angle between 21mm and 35mm and zoom wide-angles with a focal length up to 35mm.

D800-wide-angle-visuel

The thing to remember is that with these categories, zoom lenses will always score lower than prime lenses. This is a function of the optical design limits of wide-angle lenses, though it should be noted that some prime wide-angles do manage to score almost as well as standard prime lenses.

01

Compared to the whole database, wide-angle lenses, and especially wide-angle zoom lenses, score lower than most other focal lengths.

The reasons for the lower wide-angle scores are simple – wide angles tend to suffer more with distortion, vignetting and sharpness across the frame. In the ultra-wide angle lenses, the differences are very marked, with ultra-wide angle zoom lenses scoring 20% lower than the better wide-angle prime lenses – a very significant drop. However, if you need an ultra-wide angle lens, this is something you will have to accept.

02

Within the wide-angle classes, the zooms and the ultra-wides are clearly the worst performers due to limitations in optical design and the constraints of building wide-angle lenses.

Ultra-wide

Lens Price ($) DxOMark
Score
Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/15 ZF.2 Nikon 2950 27
Sigma 20mm F1.8 EX DG ASP RF Nikon 629 26
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 21mm f/2.8 ZF2 Nikon 1732 25
Samyang 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC Aspherical Nikon 409 25
Nikon AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8D 570 25
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 18mm f/3.5 ZF2 Nikon 1395 22
Sigma 14mm F2.8 EX Aspherical HSM Nikon 749 20

If you are looking for an ultra-wide angle lens, then for the best image quality, the Carl Zeiss Distagon 15mm f/2.8 offers the highest sharpness levels, with a P-Mpix score of 17. The one thing to remember with this lens though, is that it does not offer any AF as it is a manual lens. Provided you are willing to work within these limitations, it is the best choice in terms of optical performance, with a DxOMark Overall score of 27 and a sharpness score of 17P-Mpix.

03

The Zeiss Distagon T* 15mm f/2.8 ZF2 is the best ultra-wide angle yet tested on the Nikon D800.

If you are looking for a lens that is not as expensive, then for value for money, the Sigma 20mm f/1.8 EX DG ASP makes a good choice at substantially less cost than the Zeiss 15mm.

Wide-angle

Within the wide-angle lenses, the best overall score again comes from a non-Nikon lens in the shape of the Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM A recently reviewed on our website. The second lens is the Carl Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 but as with the previous Carl Zeiss lens, this is a manual model with no AF.

Lens Price ($) DxOMark
Score
Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM A Nikon 899 39
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED 2200 34
Samyang 35mm F1.4 AS UMC Nikon 599 34
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 35mm f/1.4 ZF2 Nikon 1843 34
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G 699 33
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 35mm f/2 ZF2 Nikon 1005 33
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G 1797 33
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 28mm f/2 ZF2 Nikon 1283 29
Nikon AF Nikkor 28mm f/2.8D 280 26

Behind the stellar Sigma 35mm f/1.4, it’s tough to choose a specific model. The Zeiss and Samyang tied on DxOMark scores, Nikon offers 2 very good lenses with autofocus.

For value for money choices, the Nikon AF-S 28mm f/1.8G and the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC are both worth considering, the Nikon model actually being the best of the three in terms of sharpness, scoring 21P-Mpix to the Zeiss lens’ 17P-Mpix.

Interestingly, the Samyang does make a very compelling argument – it is a little lower placed in terms of sharpness, scoring 15P-Mpix, however it matches the other two lenses very well in all other areas. Given the low price of $599 (compared to the $1843 for the Zeiss and $699 for the Nikon) it offers very good value for money – provided you are willing to sacrifice autofocus.

The Nikon is probably the best all-rounder of the three. While it may not match the sharpness of the Zeiss, and its transmission score is lower than both the Zeiss and the Samyang, the fact it is a dedicated lens, with full autofocus may well make it the best choice in real-world use.

Zooms

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED 2000 28
Tokina AT-X 16-28 F2.8 PRO FX Nikon 849 24
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR 1260 23
Nikon AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED 1764 21
Nikon AF Zoom-Nikkor 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D IF-ED 610 20
Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG HSM II Nikon 1400 17
Sigma 12-24mm f4.5-5.6 EX DG Nikon 840 16

The three top performing wide-angle zoom lenses on the D800.

As far as IQ is concerned, the 14-24mm f/2.8 is a stellar performer for this range of focal length. This zoom is the only one that competes with the better primes. Despite its higher price tag, its high scores in image quality definitely justify purchasing this lens.

In terms of sharpness, both the Tokina AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8 PRO FX Nikon and Nikon AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR lenses are evenly matched on 14P-Mpix. However, the faster maximum aperture of the Tokina and the lower distortion and chromatic aberration scores see it come out as the best choice scoring 24 to the Nikon’s 23. The fact that it is nearly $400 cheaper ($849 vs $1260) merely serves to make it an even better value for money option. In the Nikon’s favor though, there is a vibration reduction system included, though this is usually less useful in wide-angle shooting.

Conclusion

Depending on your preferences for primes vs. zooms, you’ll make your own mind up about which lenses to select from this group. However, if you are looking for the best quality, the general advice is to stick to the prime lens options.

Throughout these Nikon D800 lens tests, we have given you an overview of which lenses are best when matched to the high resolution sensor on the camera. The over-riding lesson is that the sensor is very demanding on lenses and while manufacturer own lenses are well regarded, if you’re looking for the highest image quality, then it pays to look to some of the third party options as well.