LENSTOPIA Part II – The 5 Top Lenses For Your Nikon Camera

Hopefully you caught this popular post last quarter. And so it continues here with another review of the top lenses – this time of the top Nikon lenses – my preferred weapon of choice when shooting stills. You already know I rarely write about gear since there are entire websites dedicated to that sophistry but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a top request I get from you, so the way I mitigate these divergent forces is by occasionally highlighting the tools that I actually use, lust for or have used extensively in the field…for years. The benefit of this approach is that I shoot almost EVERY camera brand for one thing or another. There is no brand loyalty here – just a loyalty to quality. Nikon for stills. Canon dSLR for video. Hasselblad for high end studio / fashion, GoPro for POV etc etc. So between yours truly, my video guru Erik, and my gear editor/research pal Sohail we’ve logged some real effort here to aggregate our thoughts on these lenses with the hope that you get at least 1 or 2 juicy takeaways. The images are Sohail’s since he is more of a gear “tester” – and wrangling thru millions of images to find one of my fav’s with each lens would kill me. So there you have it. Finally…a “top anything” list always stirs some debate – but that’s welcome and appreciated. Think we’re off by a lens or two? Let us know below – and why.

Oh and as a reminder – this isn’t a list of ‘the 5 lenses everyone should have’. It’s ‘these are the top 5 lenses in the Nikon lineup… Reminder you can rent or buy at very different price point ;)
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So here’s Lenstopia Part II: Nikon.

Nikon 85mm f/1.8G

Nikon 85mm f/1.8G

Nikon 85mm f/1.8G

Nikon makes a very nice f/1.4 version of the standard 85mm portrait lens, but for my money (and yours), the smaller, cheaper, and lighter 85mm f/1.8G is where it’s at. Aside from the small difference in aperture, this lens dominates its more expensive counterpart. This is one of the best portrait lens I’ve ever used, and I can’t speak highly enough of it. It boasts 7 diaphragm blades make for a nice, buttery bokeh, and the optics are simply outstanding, providing tack sharp images even when the aperture is wide open. We’ve all got friends who made their start as portrait photographers with this lens and continue using it well after they could have afforded the more expensive 85mm f/1.4.

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Shot with a Nikon D800E and an 85mm f/1.8G lens. © Sohail Mamdani

Shot with a Nikon D800E and an 85mm f/1.8G lens. © Sohail Mamdani

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G Lens

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G Lens

This lens needs no introduction. To say that it’s legendary is to hit it right on the mark. It is a veritable workhorse for me – when I ask for the “wide” from my assistant, he knows to hand me this lens, period. For landscape photographers, it’s always a tasty lens to have.

Another tasty bit that makes this lens remarkable is how incredibly sharp it is, corner-to-corner. Wide-angle lenses –especially those with the bulbous front element that this one has– often lose some of that sharpness in the corners. At 14mm, you’ll definitely see some distortion and there will be some vignetting at that range as well, but both are easily corrected in software. If you use Lightroom, it has a built-in lens profile to correct for those.

Canon users have a serious case of lens envy when it comes to this beauty. There simply isn’t anything out there in this zoom and aperture range that can come close to it in the Canon inventory; in fact, a number of photographers (including Sohail) have stuck this baby onto a Canon body to get the most out of both worlds – especially when shooting video.

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Delta Farm. Shot with the Nikon D800E and 14-24mm f/2.8G lens. © Sohail Mamdani

Delta Farm. Shot with the Nikon D800E and 14-24mm f/2.8G lens. © Sohail Mamdani

Nikon 135mm f/2DC

Nikon 135mm f/2DC

Nikon 135mm f/2DC

Erik, Sohail and I rapped about this and two things came up. One: this is the sharpest portrait lens out there. It slays. And two: to the best of our recollection, Nikon and Sony are the only manufacturers that make these “Defocus Control” lenses. Simply put, they allow you to control the “look” of the out-of-focus areas (see this article for a good example of what that means), and that gives you an added amount of creative control over that aspect of your images.

#2 is a nice to have. For #1, this lens is the undisputed heavyweight champ of the Nikon line and perhaps the world. The Nikon 135mm f/2.0DC lens has pure rock-solid optics. Another bonus is the metal hood. The design is tops and helps us avoid those pesky (breakable) plastic ones that dominate the market these days. The only detriment to this lens making this list? It’s very hard to find. They are a limited-run lens and often out of stock. Rumor has it that a shipment is on it’s way to Adorama right now. Literally. If you have the means to pick one up you won’t be sorry. For the record, I don’t own this lens, but I wish I did and may get on this next shipment ;)

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Shot with a D800E and a Nikon 135mm f/2

Shot with a D800E and a Nikon 135mm f/2. © Sohail Mamdani

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII

This lens is the workhorse of the Nikon lineup. No lens has spent as much time on Nikon bodies – including mine – as this one, and every single one of my Nikon-shooting buddies swear by the 70-200mm. Version One of this lens was no less of a workhorse, but when the VRII came out around 2009 or 2010, Nikon upped the game considerably. Largely gone were any issues that plagued the version I – the vignetting at certain focal lengths, the slight softness at certain apertures, the chromatic aberration that showed up from time to time. This lens does everything the version I did, and then some. Focusing, btw, is legendary and almost bulletproof.

VR is better as well, giving you up to four stops of vibration reduction. Nikon also added nano-crystal coating to this lens’ elements and the lens is weather-sealed with compatible bodies. The focal length is useful for just about every kind of shooter (Sohail even uses it for landscape, as you can see below), and most wedding and portrait shooters will typically have this one on hand for important shoots.

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

Fog-shrouded Bay Area. Shot with the Nikon 70-200 f.2.8 VRII © Sohail Mamdani

Fog-shrouded Bay Area. Shot with the Nikon 70-200 f.2.8 VRII © Sohail Mamdani

Nikon 800mm f/5.6

Nikon 800mm f/5.6ED

Nikon 800mm f/5.6ED

Okay, let’s be clear; this isn’t a lens a lot of folks will be able to afford. It’s sweet if you are loaded and have one laying around to use at will – but confession; I do not own this lens (both you and I can rent it from our pals at BorrowLenses.com, though). But it does belong on this list, and here’s why.

Until recently, Canon’s 800mm f/5.6 lens has been about the longest lens currently in production by one of the big manufacturers. The longest lens on the Nikon side has been the 600mm f/4, which is a rather good bit of kit on its own.

Until recently Nikonians have had to put up with Canonites flaunting their 800mm. Well, Nikonians now have their own cannon (yes, pun intended) to play with, and oh, what a cannon it is! The 800mm f/5.6 is a beauty of a lens, and is certainly the finest super-tele optics I’ve had the pleasure of shooting with and perhaps tops overall. It IS the lens on this list that I have the least experience with, but I can confirm that it focuses every bit as fast as Nikon’s 600mm f/4 does, and faster IMHO than the Canon 800mm f/5.6. The optics are yummy, and you’re more likely to notice atmospheric distortion caused by focusing on objects far away than you are optical distortion – which is a feat of physics.

Again, this is not your everyday lense (or even every month) but when you gotta go long, this is absolutely delicious. While TC’s are not my thing, Sohail says if you throw on the included 1.25x teleconverter (now you’re rockin’ a 1000mm f/7.1 lens) this sucker is so powerful, it’ll give you a slightly uneasy feeling as you point it at distant building. From across the San Francisco Bay, standing on Treasure Island, you can take an image that will let you actually see into the windows of the top floors of the Transamerica Pyramid Building well enough to make out the green glow of an “Exit” sign, some art on the walls, and a doorway. Whoa.

Closeup of the Transamerica Pyramid Building © Sohail Mamdani

100% crop of the image of the Transamerica Pyramid Building © Sohail Mamdani

Creepy? Yeah. Cool as heck? Definitely!

Buy it here.
Borrow it here.

That’s it for this edition of Lenstopia. In the next installment, we’ll take on the best lenses Hasselblad has to offer.

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