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 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. Precision AF is vital when there is minimal time to react. When a fleeting moment is on the line, Nikon is the only name that I trust to capture this moment, quickly and beautifully, nailing the shot every time. 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, here is my current Nikkor “Gold Ring” AF lens line-up:

F-Mount Glass

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. These days, 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 available in this mount which, thanks to the FTZ Adapter, will last me for the rest of my life. Even as Nikon’s mirrorless cameras advance, this adapter will allow me to continue to enjoy an unmatched level of optical excellence every day I shoot.

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

The Ultimate Wildlife Lens

The Nikkor 800mm FL ED is the ultimate wildlife photographer’s dream. Ultimate resolution with the ultimate reach. Simply put, there is no other lens (with or without TCs) that can match the optical quality of the bare 800 FL ED. It’s not even close. The 800mm FL ED 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 of Nikon’s premier action camera. Together, I create an unmatched opportunity to “capture the moment” as quickly, closely, 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. I have found I can actually hike with (and hand-hold) this lens by using two slings to carry it with, the Magpul MS4 Dual QD Sling and the BlackRapid Sport Strap. What allows me to deploy two slings at once, on the same camera/lens is the RRS LCF-17 Lens Foot, which has ports to accomodate both slings, simultaneously. By taking the weight burden from hand-carrying, to comfortably rest on my shoulders, these simple but effective straps allow for instant deployment while hiking in a way that lugging a tripod around cannot. In conclusion, this lens represents a lifetime investment into wildlife photography and it is 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 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. Thus it acts as “two” super-telephotos in one. By being Nikon’s absolute sharpest lens, and by also being the only option with an f/2.8 aperture, the 400 FL ED creates a separation and “look” that no other lens can match. 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. Yes, I can carry both the 800 and the 400 together, where these two Nikkor super-telephotos make the finest wildlife team money can buy. By itself, the 400 FL ED + 1.4 and 2.0 TCs represent a very flexible option too, 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. Better still, it’s lighter and more compact than any 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. It certainly is better than any zoom. 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. It is also armed with better VR than any macro. This makes the 300 PF the most all-around useful, enjoyable field lens I have ever owned, quite frankly.

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

Nikkor AF-S 105mm f/1.4E ED

The Sublime Portrait Telephoto

This lens is incredibly-sharp wide-open and, even better, its AF makes it a far superior choice for real-time portraiture, especially in nighttime conditions when hand-held. With pleasing bokeh and rendering transitions, the Nikkor 105 f/1.4E allows me to take a unique “peek” into intimate portraiture moments, from afar, while yet retaining exquisite image quality and artistic excellence in the process. I highly recommend it.

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

Nikkor AF-S 58mm f/1.4G

The Ultimate Character Portrait Lens

This is the coolest portrait lens I’ve ever used, 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.

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

Nikkor AF-S 28mm f/1.4E ED

'The Auto-Focus Otus'

This lens is the finest wide-angle prime lens available from anyone, including Sigma and Zeiss. Only the Otus can compare (at twice the price, and weight), and yet 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 and portrait-friendly rendering place this lens in a niche that no “f/2.8 zoom” can match. With unrivaled central sharpness, and bokeh that approaches the Otus, I refer to this lens as the “auto-focus” Otus 😎

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. The Z-Mount’s 16mm flange distance, mated with its 55mm throat width, mean Nikon’s Z-Mount lenses will offer superior results compared to what is physically possible from 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 spell an exciting new era for Nikon shooters. The Z-Mount ‘S’ lenses offer a level of edge-to-edge clarity, and subtle APO color-correction, which actually isn’t possible in other systems, due to their more limited mount dimensions. These advantages are mostly at the wide-end, however (from 10mm to 70mm). For longer glass, from telephoto to super-telephoto, there is no real reason to switch mounts.

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, zoom lenses offer inferior image quality to dedicated primes. Or, at least they did! The MTF stats of this new Nikkor Z-mount “S” zoom are amazing, at every focal length. They actually eclipse most F-Mount primes within its zoom range, making this the best 24-70 f/2.8 lens ever designed. This makes the Z 24-70 f/2.8 S the perfect walk-around and travel lens, where it simply delivers. It is actually the primary lens I use for my professional career as a casualty investigator. The moment Nikon releases the Z 14-24 f/2.8 S companion, I plan on replacing all of my Zeiss prime glass within this focal range, with this single “S” zoom. 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