What lenses should you buy with your D800 ?

A lot of D800 talks lately (guiltyyyy !), but let's not forget what's actually the second most important thing after your photographic skills: the lens. Indeed the D800 is a facilitating tool but it's still just an intermediary between you and the final image. Among all those intermediaries (lens, camera, editing software), the body is definitively the one that has the least impact on the image.

So what lens should you buy for your D800? The answer always lays in a good need assessment, and since I can't cover every possible combination of need, I'll stick to a multipurpose lens selection that should allow you to cover landscape, street photography, wedding, portrait and macro. For more eccentric needs (underwater fish eye, super tele zoom), I am not the best person to ask for advice anyway.

What applies to nearly every situation is that prime of fix focal lengths outperform zoom lengths. They do because they are optimized for one focal length only, you then benefit from sharper image, with less distortion and vignetting. They also tend to cost less. Last but not least, they can open much much wider (down't to F1.2), allowing low light photography and really narrow depth of field. Most prime lenses happen to also be FX lenses. Those usually don't have a built in motor for AF, and work only in manual focus mode in DX cameras. So when you buy a prime lens for a DX camera, make sure it's either a DX, or be aware that you won't have AF. That fact is that anyway, you need at least one prime lens. 

Of course, some situations require the capacity to zoom in and out, for example if you are a wedding photographer, or a journalist. In that case, you'll have to invest in a zoom lens. The problem is that good zoom lenses are costly. You want, on a FX camera, premium quality (otherwise why spending that much in the body). It usually means fix aperture at F2.8. Also, the greater the zoom range, the higher the risk of quality drop. You will usually buy the one you need most and invest on more latter.

1st case scenario: you had a DSLR before, DX format.
First of all, you might wonder what is different in a DX lens as opposed to a normal full format lens. Well essentially they aim at covering a smaller sensor. So if you put them on a FX, you might suffer from dark corners and excessive vignetting. Also, on a DX camera, you have to multiply the focal length by about 1.5 to know what real length your are shooting at. Because the sensor is smaller, it covers only a center portion of the image, acting as a fake 1.5 zoom. You can use your DX on an FX camera, but I recommend you then shoot it in DX mode to get the most of it. Then of course, you totally loose the purpose of having a DX camera. Finally, DX lenses tend to come in super short focal lengths, to compensate the above mentioned crop factor and allow wide angle. 

Back to your situation: if you had a DX camera, it's very unlikely that you own a premium zoom FX lens. That's the first thing you need to get since your actual zoom lenses will strongly limit the potential of your new system.

2nd case scenario: you are starting from scratch.
You must buy a great prime lens. I would go for the following combo: Nikon 50mm f/1.2 Nikkor AI-S Manual Focus + Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G AFS. This being said, here is my FX lenses Nikon selection.

Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G AFS
Yes it costs an arm. But if you must have one multipurpose lens on a Nikon FX, that should be this one.  Prefer it to the 18-55 f2.8. Similar quality, 15 more mm. It's clearly aiming at professional use, but if you can afford it...

Nikon 16-35mm F4
For landscape shooters, architecture, doesn't get sharper than that on a zoom. I would even recommend this over extra wide prime lenses. Prime lenses will mostly allow low light photography, but for landscape you are likely to use a pod anyway.

Now you'll need a prime lens or two, in order to maximize your options and make the most of that large sensor. It's a lot of lenses, but you'll keep those for decades, so don't be scared investing on it.

Nikon 35mm f/2D
Ideal for street photography and travel, my kinda stuff. It's wide enough to capture a scene, allow portraiture too. I own few 35mm lenses (I shoot mostly medium format) but this is one of them. It's very affordable, small and light. It also perform really well, and remains sharp at F2, much more than the cheap (yet good) 50mm f1.8D. You. Must. Get. One.

Nikon 135mm f/2.0D
I need one (and I accept donations ! Email me or leave a comment). The portrait lens you must get, also a bokeh monster.

Nikon 50mm f/1.2 Nikkor AI-S Manual Focus
Not the cheapest, an older design too and manual focus only, but oh my god it is beautiful. It does not get sharper. Period. Bokeh is superb, at f1.2 it like a painting in the background. At F2 it is sharper than your sharper most expensive zoom. I own one, it's built old school, like a Rolex, I love it.

Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Micro
For macro. Don't get 60mm lenses for macro, this is the one you need. As the huge advantage of also being a substitute for the 135mm f2. Solid metal build, one the best Nikon lenses ever.

Last point on competition: 
Some pro Nikon camera have very brutal and fast AF motors. If you use cheap Sigma stuff with it, you might destroy the lens as it won't be handle the camera body (if you had a cheap lens on a F5, you know what I'm talking about).

Sigma and Tamron are just not cheap enough to be worth it. I don't see the point, if you can spend that much money, buy Nikon.

Zeiss and Voighlander do great stuff to, mostly prime manual focus lenses. They are excellent, but I find the 50mm f1.2 AIS so good that I don't see the point.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)