LENSES (Auto-Focus)

Premium Nikkor 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 photography (landscapes, flowers, most macro situations, etc.), when it come to capturing active wildlife, especially at a distance, only Nikon’s AF glass will do, when I have minimal time to react. Nikon is the only name I trust to capture the moment, quickly and beautifully, nailing the shot every time. When it comes to selecting focal lengths, I operate by “The Rule of Doubles,” selecting successive focal lengths roughly-double to the focal length of the lens before it (e.g., 200mm, 400mm, 800mm, etc.). That said, here is my current AF lens line-up:

Nikon F-Mount

60-Years of Excellence

Established in 1959, the Nikon F-Mount has been the most flexible mount available, for decades, until the advent of mirrorless. Many of the most incredible lenses ever made have been crafted in this mount. However (to be realistic) the F-Mount’s future development is likely coming to a close sooner than later. That said, I have acquired the absolute finest lenses in this mount which, thanks to the FTZ Adapter, will last me for the rest of my life, as Nikon’s mirrorless cameras advance, providing an unmatched level of excellence every day I shoot.

Nikkor AF-S 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR

The Long Range Master

The Nikkor 800mm FL ED is the ultimate wildlife photographer’s dream. Ultimate resolution with the ultimate reach. I bypassed the usual 600mm focal length, because I found I still needed TCs or to crop. Simply put, there is no other lens (with or without TCs) that can match the optical quality of the 800 FL ED. It’s not even close. The 800mm FL ED is the perfect companion for the Nikon D5 because it allows me to fill the frame with Nikon’s premier action camera. Together, I am guaranteed to capture the moment as quickly, and as beautifully, as is technologically-possible to capture. I also use the 800mm with the D850 when I am not going to be light-challenged. Stunning images are the result. For a person using lesser zooms (or smaller prime telephotos with TCs on them), moving up to this tremendous lens is a real eye-opener. It’s a whole other level of quality at the long-range. As importantly, with the gradual shift to mirrorless, the FTZ adapter allows the focus accuracy to remain excellent also on my Z7 mirrorless, and I expect it to be the same on Nikon’s forthcoming pro-wildlife Z cameras in the future too. In conclusion, this lens is a lifetime investment into wildlife photography and an unmatched joy to own.

See @ Nikon: Nikkor AF-S 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR

Nikkor AF-S 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR

The Benchmark in Super-Telephoto Optical Quality

The Nikkor 400mm FL ED is the sharpest Nikon super-telephoto lens made. It’s value lies in its f/2.8 aperture and how sharp it is wide-open. I have my D850 glued to it, which (due to the 47mpx) lets me crop-in to a 600mm DX-equivalent reach, if need be. A lot of people ask me, “Why didn’t you just go with the 600mm?” My reason is critical: MTF values. The 400mm FL ED is not only a sharper lens than the 600mm, period, but its peak sharpness values are @ f/2.8 – f/4, not when stopped way down to f/8. The 600mm is has peak sharpness values @ f/8, where I would never bother to shoot at. Because the 400mm FL ED is sharper @ f/2.8 than the 600mm is anywhere, this translates to more light + more speed + more beautiful blurred backgrounds, all the while enjoying über sharpness and top-notch auto-focus. While my 800mm FL ED beats them all at a distance, its size and mass mean it gets deployed from a tripod, while my 400mm FL ED is carried with a BlackRapid Sport Strap. This simple, but effective addition takes the weight-burden away and allows for instant deployment. Together, these two Nikkor super-telephotos make the finest wildlife team money can buy. By itself, the 400mm FL ED’s exquisite sharpness wide-open, its sublime rendering, plus its subject isolation remain an industry benchmark—and I highly-recommend it 😎

See @ Nikon: Nikkor AF-S 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR

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

The Pocket Super-Telephoto Wonder

The 300mm f/4 PF is an anomaly in my lens line-up. The reason it’s here is, sometimes I don’t feel like lugging my 400 or 800mm FL ED lenses around—but yet I still want telephoto capabilities when I hike in the field. Mounted on my D500 (which gives a 1.5x crop factor), the 300 PF frames as a 450mm lens. When I add the 1.4x TC, or even a 2x TC, the 300 PF frames as a ~630mm and 900mm lens, respectively. And yet it’s as light as a compact zoom! No, the image quality produced isn’t quite what the super-telephoto lenses can do; yet, I am constantly surprised how close this little lens can get. Further, with a 1:4 reproduction ratio (1:3 w/ the 1.4x TC, and 1:2 with the 2x TC), the 300 f/4 PF achieves near-macro capabilities, with the added bonus of allowing me to take photos of butterflies, dragonflies, and such from 4-feet away, with better VR than any macro. This makes the 300 PF the most all-around useful, enjoyable field lens I have ever owned.

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

Micro-Nikkor AF 200mm f/4D IF-ED

The Old, but still 'Legendary' Macro Telephoto

Of all the existing Nikkor lenses, especially in this day and age, the Micro-Nikkor 200mm f/4D is in the most need of a modern update 🙂 Still, even to this day, the lens enjoys a revered status among many macro shooters. Recent reviews by Nikon Rumors and True Toad confirm the very detailed review by Coin Imaging, made decades ago. Since my own macro experience is pretty extensive, I rate this lens highly in some respects, not so high in others. It does not produce the same subtle color graduations of the Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar, nor does it produce as fine a bokeh, either. In my opinion, the best use for this lens is for 1:4 to 1:2, single-shot macro imagery, taken at f/5 to f/8 apertures, particularly of butterflies, where the background can be judiciously-selected—and also where a tripod collar is preferred for compositional considerations.

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

Micro-Nikkor AFS 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED VR

The Action / Auto-Focus Macro Lens

The Micro-Nikkor AFS 105mm f/2.8G is the macro choice I use when I shoot small, moving or airborne subjects (e.g., bees in flight), where the Micro-Nikkor 200 f/4’s AF is too slow, and where the 300 PF’s reproduction ratio doesn’t enlarge the subject enough on the sensor. Another advantage to this lens is the AFS system + IF (internal focusing) feature, which allow me to take advantage of Nikon’s Focus Shift Shooting in the D850 and Z7. I have found this lens to be sharpest at f/4 to f/5.6, where there still is decent bokeh potential. Honestly, though, this is my least-used macro lens, and both it and the 200 f/4 will be replaced by Z-mount equivalents as soon as they come out.

See @ Nikon: Micro-Nikkor AFS 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED VR

Nikon Z-Mount

Future-Forward Advantages

The Z-Mount possesses critical specifications which position Nikon users to enjoy some unique advantages . The Z-Mount’s 16mm flange distance, mated with its 55mm throat width, means Nikon’s Z-Mount lenses will offer superior results compared to what is possible in other systems. Nikon’s mount dimensions also mean Nikon Z-mount cameras can adapt other lens, from other manufacturers, while no other system will be able to take advantage of the new Nikkor Z-mount ‘S’ lenses. These strategic advantages, going forward, spell an exciting future for Nikon shooters. The Z-Mount ‘S’ lenses offer levels of edge-to-edge clarity, and subtle APO color-correction, which actually aren’t possible in other systems, due to their more limited mount dimensions.

Nikkor Z 24-70 f/2.8 S

The First Zoom Lens to Exceed Prime Lens Specs

As a lens connoisseur, I am not a big fan of zooms. Reason being, while handy, they offer inferior image quality to dedicated primes. Or, at least they did, until Nikon came out with their Z-Mount—and produced their very first professional-level f/2.8 zoom with it! The MTF stats of this Nikkor Z-mount zoom are amazing, at every focal length. They actually eclipse most F-Mount prime lenses within its range, making this the best 24-70 lens ever designed. This makes the Z 24-70 f/2.8 S the perfect walk-around and travel lens, where it simply delivers. The moment Nikon releases a Z 14-24 f/2.8 S companion, I plan on replacing all of my Zeiss prime glass within this focal range, also. Nikon has directly said the Z-mount is especially effective for wider glass, so I am excited for this entry to come out too, as it will likely eclipse all F-Mount primes within the range as well.

See @ Nikon: Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S