Lenses (Auto-Focus)

Nikkor Gold Ring 'E' Optics

Nikkor AF lenses represent ‘The Standard’ for wildlife and other challenging photography, where one does not have the time to compose and execute with manual focus glass. While I actually prefer to use manual focus lenses for many aspects of nature (landscapes, flowers, etc.), when it come to capturing wildlife, and other fleeting moments, only Nikon’s “Gold Series” AF lenses will do. Nikon is the name I trust to get the job done, quickly and beautifully, every time. When choosing focal lengths, I operate by The Rule of Doubles, selecting prime focal lengths roughly-double to the focal length of the lens before it (e.g., 28mm, 58mm, 105mm, etc.). That said, here is my AF lens line-up:

Nikkor AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR

The Most Important, Versatile Tool I Own

Since I purchased this lens, I rarely take large, fast glass into the field anymore. It’s simply not enjoyable. More than that, trying to deploy big glass (while hiking) is not as productive, either. Since acquiring the 300 f/4E PF, no longer do I have to set a tripod down, or deploy a “rocket launcher” for a lens, to nail quality bird shots. Instead, now I can comfortably aim, and shoot, in seconds, enjoying virtually the same image quality. Even better, the 300mm has a close minimum focusing distance (4′) with an excellent reproduction ratio (1:4), so it makes a great ‘macro’ substitute also, for larger butterflies, hummers, and such—with a pro-level of AF + VR that no macro lens has. I honestly consider the 300mm f/4E PF ED VR to be the most-used, most enjoyable, versatile, and important lens I bring to the field for all forms of wildlife. It’s quite possibly Nikon’s greatest invention for the hiking photographer.

See @ Nikon: Nikkor AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR

Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF ED

The Sharpest Long-Range AF Macro in the Shed

The 200mm focal length of this unique macro lens is its greatest asset, offering a complement of synergistic features: its legendary sharpness, a 1:1 reproduction ratio, its 1.6′ MDF, and a unique FOV, all allow the user to really isolate the subject like no other macro lens can. I’ve shot many other ‘long’ macro lenses during my journey as a macro shooter to  form my perspective (the Canon 100mm f/2.8 … the Canon 100mm f/2.8L … the Nikkor 105mm f/2.6G … the Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 APO… the Canon 180mm f/3.5L… and Sigma 180mm f/2.8 APO EX), so this lens isn’t my first “long-macro rodeo.” That said, none of the aforementioned can match the sharpness + subject-isolation of the venerable Micro-Nikkor 200 f/4D. (Others agree, check here and here, as examples.) The awesome all-metal build quality of this lens is also peerless and unmatched. The only drawback is its primitive AF system renders the lens unable to benefit from the D850’s focus-shift feature. However, for razor-sharp, single-image macro wildlife portraiture, this timeless lens remains in a class by itself.

See @ Nikon: Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF ED

Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF ED

Nikon's Portable Macro Gem

For several years, for macro shots past 1:2, I’ve used manual-focus lenses almost exclusively, in particular the Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5-SL APO-Lanthar. Aside from the incredible image quality of the Voigtländer, it has 630° of focus-throw, which enables me to stack my images in the field, manually, without the need of a rail. However, with the advent of the D850’s Focus Shift Shooting feature, I can now automate my field stacks, which greatly-increases stacking accuracy. For this, I have added the AFS Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G to my lens portfolio. The amount of detail I can now resolve in my field macros, by combining the stacking feature of the D850 (not to mention its resolving power + its color sensitivity), with the internal-focusing (IF) motor of the Micro-Nikkor 105, has created a jaw-dropping macro-powerhouse combo. Unlike trying to stack with macro rails (or with lenses that extend-out as you focus), stacking in-body with a camera + an IF lens, keeps the end of the lens at the same distance from the subject, allowing for much cleaner stacking accuracy in post.

See @ Nikon: Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF ED