Auto-Focus Lenses

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 precision manual focus glass. While I actually prefer to use MF lenses for many aspects of nature photography (landscapes, flowers, most macro situations, etc.), when it come to capturing active wildlife, especially at a distance, precision AF becomes vital when there is minimal time to react. When it comes to selecting focal lengths, I typically select successive focal lengths roughly-double to the focal length of the lens before it (e.g., 200mm, 400mm, 800mm, etc.). That said, these represent my current Nikkor AF lens line-up, in both F- and Z-Mounts:

F-Mount Glass

60+ Years of Optical Excellence

Established in 1959, the Nikon F-Mount has been the most flexible mount available, for other brands to adapt, until the advent of mirrorless. Many of the most incredible, specialty lenses ever made have been crafted exclusively in this mount. As a passionate photographer, I have accumulated some of the finest F-Mount lenses made—and, thanks to the FTZ Adapter, these lenses still operate perfectly on my new Z-Mount cameras. The FTZ adapter has ensured me a smooth transition, allowing me to enjoy the following stellar F-Mount optics for the rest of my life:

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

The Ultimate Birding Lens

The Nikkor 800mm FL ED is the ultimate birding lens, offering unsurpassed reach along with unmatched resolution and rendering. Simply put, there is no other wildlife lens (with or without TCs) that can match the optical quality of the bare 800 FL ED. This benchmark lens is the perfect companion for the Nikon D5, because the extreme focal length allows me to “fill the frame” with my subjects,  while enjoying the reflexes and class-leading ISO performance of Nikon’s premier action camera. Further, when I need to go beyond 800mm, I can achieve up to 1600mm using my FTZ adapter on my Z6, which retains AF on all 4 Nikkor TCs (1.25x, 1.4x, 1.7x and 2x), allowing me to shoot at the greatest magnification currently possible.

For deployment on-the-move, I have found I can actually hike with (and hand-hold) this lens by using two slings to carry it, the Magpul MS4 Dual QD Sling and the BlackRapid Sport Strap. What allows me to deploy two slings at once, on the same lens, is the RRS LCF-17 Lens Foot (which has two ports to accommodate both slings, simultaneously). By taking the weight burden from my hands, and comfortably-distributing it across my shoulders, these twin straps allow for “hands-free” hiking … as well as instant deployment … in a way that lugging a tripod around cannot.

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 Optical Quality + Versatility

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. By being Nikon’s absolute sharpest lens, and by also being the only super-telephoto option with an f/2.8 aperture, the 400 FL ED creates a compression plus separation “look” that no other lens can match. Even better, with a native .16x magnification, if I add a 36mm extension tube, I can enjoy a ~1:4 reproduction ratio, from 8′ away, and photograph most butterflies with a level of rendering and compression that is not possible with a standard macro.

As with the 800 FL ED, the 400 is similarly hand-holdable, because I also carry it with a Magpul MS4 Dual QD Sling and a BlackRapid Sport Strap. Again, these simple, but effective straps take the weight-burden away and yet allow for instant deployment. (BTW, the answer is, “Yes,” I can carry both the 800 and the 400 together, where these two Nikkor super-telephotos make quite a wildlife package together.) By itself, as for instance when traveling won’t allow me to bring two large lenses, the 400 FL ED + 1.4x and 2x TCs represent a more flexible premier quality option over my 800mm. For this reason, the 400 FL ED  is the MVP of my travel lens lineup.

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, but it’s one of the most useful lenses I’ve ever enjoyed. To begin, 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 or take a short trip. Mounted on my D500 (which gives a 1.5x crop factor), the 300 PF becomes a ~450mm lens. When I add the 1.4x TC (or even a 2x TC), the 300 PF becomes a ~630mm lens (and ~900mm lens), respectively—while being the lightest lens in the world at all these respective focal lengths. 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! It certainly is better than any zoom.

Further, while it doesn’t have the extreme quality of the 400 FL ED, the 300 PF has a .25x reproduction ratio (.34x w/ the 1.4x TC, and .5x with the 2x TC), so this versatile piece of glass can achieve near-macro capabilities also, with the added bonus of allowing me to take photos of butterflies, dragonflies, and such from 4-feet away. All of these specs combine to make the 300 PF the most all-around useful, enjoyable budget wildlife lens I have ever owned, as well as the lightest and easiest to deploy.

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

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

The Legendary Macro Telephoto

The Micro-Nikkor AF 200mm f/4D has been the longest AF macro lens for decades. And, for decades, it’s been the best. Although many still rate this lens as “the best” (e.g., True Toad, Nikon Rumors, etc.), the truth is (as someone who has more macro experience than both of those authors put together), the 200 D is sorely-outdated—features-wise as well as optically. That said, the 200 FD is still one of my favorites, mainly because it still has the greatest working distance of any macro lens. Also, its AF system, while dated and slow, is spot-on accurate. For these reasons, the 200 f/4 is a great choice for butterflies. Because it’s also built like a tank (probably the most rugged macro lens ever made) it is also great for the field. Finally, the 200 f/4 has the highest quality tripod collar for smooth framing—and I say this as someone who has used all its competitive rivals: no other macro telephoto option comes close. All these key features combine to render this a field favorite on “macro days,” despite its age. Unfortunately, it has been recently discontinued by Nikon, but ‘mint’ copies are still available.

Find on eBay: Micro-Nikkor AF 200mm f/4D IF-ED

Nikkor AF-S 105mm f/1.4E ED

The Sublime Portrait Telephoto

This lens is amazingly-sharp wide-open and, even better, its AF allows me to nail the focus quickly (which might be missed with MF), and with precision. The combination creates a unique portraiture perspective, especially in nighttime conditions when hand-held. With pleasing bokeh and rendering transitions, the Nikkor 105 f/1.4E allows me to capture intimate portraiture moments, from afar, with exquisite sharpness, separation, along with artistic rendering. Even better, with a 36mm extension tube, I can enjoy a 1:2.3 reproduction ratio (.43x) for the kind of flower photography sharpness, rendering, and bokeh that is not possible with a standard macro lens.

See @ Nikon: Nikkor AF-S 105mm f/1.4E ED

Nikkor AF-S 58mm f/1.4G

The Ultimate Character Portrait Lens

This is a Nikon signature portraiture lens, and one the coolest I’ve ever used, and yet (ironically) it doesn’t do well on the lab benches. I discuss this indepth on this forum post. However, for those who actually give this lens a chance, they will find the 58mm f/1.4G to be a terrific niche lens designed for a specific type of photography: human portraiture. PhotographyLife has a great review. Although human portraiture is not my usual effort, it is still a nice lens to have when such moments present themselves. To fully-appreciate this lens, one has to either see the images from it … or use it themselves. It’s a masterpiece. Even better, with a 36 mm extension tube, I can enjoy a 1:1.33 reproduction ratio (.75x) for the kind of flower photography, rendering, and bokeh that is not possible with a standard macro lens either.

See @ Nikon: Nikkor AF-S 58mm f/1.4G

Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.4E ED

'The Auto-Focus Otus'

This lens is a unique wide-angle prime lens not available from anyone, including Sigma and Zeiss. While Otus can compare in some respects (at twice the price and weight), even the Otus cannot match the central sharpness or bokeh of the Nikkor 28E. The Otus also doesn’t have AF, which limits its usefulness for real-time wide portraiture. For night events, be they nature or human, there is no finer wide-angle prime to choose from. Its fast aperture, plus portrait-friendly AF, place the Nikkor 28 f/1.4 E in a niche that no “f/2.8 zoom” can match. Even better, with a 36mm extension tube, it can function as  a “super-macro,” with a 1.46:1 reproduction ratio (1.46x), offering a level of tiny flower photography … with sharpness, rendering, and bokeh that is not possible with a standard macro lens.

See @ Nikon: Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.4E ED

Z-Mount Glass

Future-Forward Advantages

The Z-Mount possesses critical specifications which position Nikon users to enjoy some unique advantages over other brands with lesser mounts. The Z-Mount’s 16mm flange distance, mated with its 55mm throat width, mean Nikon’s Z-Mount lenses will lenses will have engineering advantages over what is possible from other systems. The Z-Mount ‘S’ lenses offer a level of edge-to-edge clarity, along with APO color-correction, which actually aren’t possible in other systems. However, the Z-Mount’s flange advantages apply mostly at the wide-end (from 10mm to 100mm). For longer glass, from telephoto to super-telephoto, there is no real reason to switch mounts.

NIKKOR “Z” ZOOMS: As a lens fancier, I’ve never been a big fan of zooms. Reason being, while handy, zoom lenses offer inferior image quality to dedicated prime lenses. Or, at least they used to! Nikon’s most recent, pro-level, Z-mount “S” zooms are now actually eclipsing what most of their elite F-Mount primes can do, all across their zoom ranges. This incredible new mount has enabled me to essentially get rid of 3-4 primes, for every “one” Nikkor Z zoom I purchase—lightening my load—and putting money back in my pocket in the process.

Nikkor Z 24-70 f/2.8 S

The First Zoom Lens to Exceed Prime Lens Specs

According to every testing body, this is the best 24-70 f/2.8 lens ever designed, offering prime-level performance over the three most important standard prime focal lengths (24mm 35mm, 50mm), and giving me everything inbetween and a little bit beyond. This makes the Z 24-70 f/2.8 S the perfect walk-around and travel lens, where it simply delivers. The 24-70 f/2.8 S is actually the primary lens I use now for my professional career as a casualty investigator on my Z6. (It is also the lens I use on my Z6 for videos and podcasts.) Its excellent image quality, comfortable ergonomics, and durable build make this lens my professional workhorse for standard ranges..

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

Nikkor Z 14-24 f/2.8 S

The Shortest, Lightest, and Best 14-24mm f/2.8 on Earth

Since Nikon themselves have been saying the wide-end of their optic range is where the true benefits of the Z-Mount will be realized to the uttermost, this zoom lens has thus been Nikon’s most anticipated release for me. Basically, it has allowed me to part with 3  excellent Zeiss Distagon primes (15mm, 21mm, 25mm), putting money back in my pocket after selling them them, while this new Nikkor Z ‘S’ professional zoom offers better image quality than all of them, again lightening my load in once slick replacement. This is the shortest, lightest and highest-quality 14-24mm f/2.8 constant aperture zoom on earth. It is glued to my Z7.

See @ Nikon: Nikkor Z 14-24 f/2.8 S