In Lieu of Reviews: Lenses

A few quick observations about recent lenses I'm in process of reviewing

Original: 5/16/2011

I did some short takes on cameras recently, now it's time for some lenses. Where I don't make a specific final recommendation, I haven't yet formed a strong enough opinion about how to assess the lens. These are all lenses that I continue to test in real situations, mostly with D5100/D7000 and D3s/D3x bodies.

  • Nikkor 24-120mm f/4. Good news: it's sharper than the lens it replaced, and very visibly so wide open in the center. Vignetting is interesting, with a wide central area at 24mm that doesn't have any, but then a big dramatic increase just before the corners. Overall, though, vignetting is well controlled. Bad news: it produces a high amount of visible chromatic aberration, and it's never quite sharp in the corners. Overall: I'm a little ambivalent about this lens. I had higher hopes for it, but at least it's well in the usable range now. Recommended.
  • Nikkor 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6. Good news: for a super-zoom, it's not bad in the center when stopped down a bit. Low to Medium vignetting (at extreme focal lengths), improves rapidly. Bad news: it's a superzoom, so it's less than perfectly sharp over much of its range, even stopped down; it's soft in the corners in many setting combinations; it has visible chromatic aberration (though less than the 24-120mm), it has considerable focus breathing. Overall: Doesn't have the acuity bite I want to see out of a lens I'd leave on the camera most of the time. Not to say that it's a bad lens, but it just doesn't rise above the bar for me, especially on the D3x. Note: haven't tested on DX bodies yet.
  • Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8. Good news: center is stunning even wide open, corners are decent stopped down, fairly free of chromatic aberration except at the extremes. Bad news: no filters, big honking piece of glass is brutally exposed to whatever's poking at you, linear distortion you'll want to deal with at 14mm, medium high (1.5 stop) vignetting wide open that improves only slightly at 14mm, but quite good stopped down at 24mm. Overall: I'm rarely disappointed with this lens and often pleasantly surprised, despite my already high expectations. The lack of filters seems to put a lot of people off, but it hasn't stopped me from loving this lens. Highly Recommended.
  • Nikkor 16-35mm f/4. Good news: nice central sharpness, best stopped down a bit. Vignetting is well controlled at all but 16mm, where it's medium when the lens is wide open and improves a bit as you stop down. Bad news: soft corners, even stopped down. Overall: still in progress on testing (especially DX bodies). The real problem this lens has is that it competes against the 14-24mm, which is exceptional.
  • Nikkor 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 DX. Good news: nice central sharpness, decent edge sharpness, even wide open. Bad news: for its range and price point, none, really. Some people might dislike the lower build quality compared to the 12-24mm. Vignetting is medium at 10mm (1 stop in corner) and doesn't improve as much as you might think it should when stopping down. Overall: I tried this against both the new Sigma and the Tokina 11-16mm, and I like the Nikkor better by a teeny bit. The only problem with that assessment is that it seems there appears to be significant sample variation amongst all three brands in the wide-angle zooms. Trust, but verify. Recommended.
  • Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DX. Good news: surprisingly good, perhaps even stunning from 55-200mm from center to corner stopped down, but still quite good in the center even wide open. High contrast edges are clean at all but 300mm, where a bit of chromatic aberration sneaks in. Vignetting is modest. Bad news: from 200-300mm everything goes downhill rapidly, making it only serviceable as a 300mm. Nikon gets demerit points for the lens hood, though. Mine fell apart within days--it won't withstand heavy handling. Overall: at the price, better-than-expected performance and probably a better choice than the 55-200mm, which was already very good. Highly Recommended.
  • Nikkor 24mm f/1.4. Good news: stopped down there are no complaints. Bad news: wide open it struggles a bit, as do all f/1.4 lenses. Vignetting is strong wide open (2 stops in corners), and the center of that is slightly south of image center. Needs two stops to get in control. Overall: if you need it, you need it (and you'll probably like it). It's a large heavy lens, though. Recommended.
  • Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8. Good news: sharp in the center by f/4, deadly sharp by f/5.6. Bad news: corners need more stopping down to get into high acuity, surprisingly strong vignetting wide open improves to decent in a couple of stops. Overall: I was a bit surprised by the corners on this lens, and that's about my only reservation so far.
  • Micro-Nikkor 85mm f/3.5. Good news: stopped down it does very well. Vignetting is only moderate wide open and very rapidly improves to ignorable. Bad news: it's not nearly sharp enough until f/5.6, never really knocks anything out of the park. Surprisingly a bit weak on flat test charts compared to other macro lenses. Overall: I still don't get this lens. I suppose it's Nikon's idea of "DX-ing a staple" (the 105mm Micro-Nikkor), but it's just not even close to being in the same league. Tamron's 60mm and 90mm remain better choices for those seeking economy macro, I think.
  • Nikkor 200mm f/2. Good news: as good as it gets at f/2 in the center, remarkably good in the corners by f/2.8. The Fat Boy just rocks the sharpness charts. No real chromatic aberration to worry about, either. Vignetting on the original is very low, a bit higher on the newer version. Bad news: it's expensive and heavy. But you knew that. I shot some sports with this lens again last month and fell in love all over again. Tolerates converters well, but you'll lose some of the hard edge sharpness you see without them. Note: the II version I tried was a little worse in the corners than my I version. Don't know if that was sample variation or something significant. Probably nothing to worry about as the one I borrowed had been knocked around by others. Overall: Because of its size and weight, I often don't carry the 200mm f/2 with me. When I do, I regret the times I didn't. Highly Recommended.
  • Nikkor 500mm f/4. Good news: the 500 f/4 continues to be one of those exceptional exotics. Doesn't quite match my 400mm f/2.8, but it comes awful close stopped down one stop on my D3x. Even wide open the corners are well above good. At f/5.6 they're very good, though a hint of chromatic aberration will rob a bit of the edge. Vignetting only reaches about a stop in the corners wide open, and is ignorable at f/5.6. Bad news: you can't find one in the US, and even if you did it costs as much as a good used car. Overall: still the best "reach" option out there. While it gives up 100mm on the 600mm, it also gives up a lot of weight and size, a trade-off most users should and will make. Highly Recommended.
  • Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8. Good news: center is sharp wide open up to about 35mm, then loses a bit of edge. Vignetting is modest. Bad news: the corners never get close enough to the center, even at f/5.6. Overall: This has become my mid-range zoom on DX, though it's not perfect (nothing is, that's the problem).
  • Zeiss 18mm, 21mm, 25mm. Good news: centers are sharp wide open, razor sharp two stops down. Corners are very good but never great, and chromatic aberration and distortion are low. Bad news: tons of vignetting on my D3x. Disappears within a couple of stops, but very visible wide open. Overall: All three lenses are very good, don't get me wrong. But I was a little disappointed by all three. The 25mm doesn't beat the Nikkor f/1.4! The 18mm beats the 14-24mm only in the corners. On the other hand, the build quality is exceptional. Old school metal with long focus throws and excellent markings. But big filters on some of these (82mm). Recommended (with reservations)


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