Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs

My Nikon D1 Lenses

by Ron Reznick



I have tested a number of lenses for use with the D1. The choices I made for my uses are as follows:


      • Nikkor 24mm f/2.8D
      • Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D
      • Nikkor 105mm f/2.8D Micro
      • Nikkor 180mm f/2.8D EDIF
      • Nikkor 300mm f/4 AFS
      • TC-14e teleconverter



      • Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8 AFS
      • Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR
During the course of deciding on a lens set that would fulfill my needs, I owned and/or tested a fair number of lenses, including third-party lenses, both prime and zoom. Impressions of some of these other lenses might be of use to the person looking for a lens or lenses for use with a similar set of needs. I shoot scenic, animals, flowers, macro, and have been known to take the occasional snapshot or wedding picture as well. My choices have been made with these needs and ultimate quality vs. price in mind.
General-purpose lenses
Many people want a lens that can be used as a do-it-all travel or general-use lens. When I started with the D1, the first lens I chose was the 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 Nikkor, based on a recommendation from two people I respected. This lens has a fairly wide range, from medium-wide to short telephoto, and has a reasonably wide maximum aperture for a fairly bright viewfinder, however, images from this lens are soft unless the lens is stopped down to at least f/8. At f/11, the results are quite good, but of course the depth of field at that aperture does not offer much subject isolation. In addition, at the 24mm end there is significant barrel distortion, and I was never satisfied with the images taken at the 120mm end for a number of reasons. From around 28mm to about 105mm, the lens does a fairly good job when stopped down to f/8-f/11 however.
Nikkor makes a lens that is in that very range, the 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5. This lens offers significantly better performance at all focal lengths and apertures, is a faster lens at the long end, offers a decent macro mode for those times when you want to focus closer, and overall is the general-purpose zoom that I recommend using to anyone who asks. While it is not up to the performance of the expensive AFS zooms, it has a wider focal-length range, is very light, and costs in the neighborhood of $325 making it in my opinion the ultimate choice for a general-purpose lens.
‘Normal’ zooms
You may have noticed that in my personal lens-list, I do not have a ‘normal’ zoom. I have however had several here. I tested two samples of the Tokina 28-80mm f/2.8 and owned until just recently a Nikkor 35-70 f/2.8D. The premiere lens in this category is the Nikkor 28-70 f/2.8 AFS, and it is very good, but it is large, heavy and extremely expensive. It is however very fast-focusing (AFS motor), and offers exceptional contrast and detail. I was not willing to carry this heavy a lens in this range, as I would still be changing lenses a lot due to the fact that this range, while convenient, does not go quite wide enough or long enough for my needs when shooting. When I decided that the general-purpose lenses did not satisfy my needs for ultimate quality, I started looking at the Tokina 28-80mm f/2.8. I compared it to the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4, which is the lens that I use for low-light and ‘normal’ range, as well as the Nikkor 35-70mm f/2.8D. The Tokina meters a bit underexposed in all but bright daylight, has a slight lack of contrast in comparison to the Nikkor lenses, and is slightly undersaturated in color, plus the color balance is slightly off requiring that all images be color-adjusted in post-processing. It is quite soft at f/2.8 (more so than the 35-70/2.8D Nikkor), and the flare and ghosting when a bright light source is in-frame or just outside of the frame is heavy (this is improved by stopping down the lens). Both samples of the lens illustrated the same characteristics, and were ultimately sent back to the dealer.
The Nikkor 35-70 f/2.8D on the other hand, while not quite as detailed or contrasty as the 50mm prime, was very good in all respects. It is still soft at f/2.8, but not as soft as the Tokina. Contrast is excellent, and as long as the hood is used it is fairly resistant to flare and ghosting. The hood is less useful at the long end than it is at the wide end though. The 35-70/2.8D is well-built, with a metal barrel, a very useful ‘macro’ mode that allows the lens to manually close-focus to under a foot at the 35mm end, and is quite sharp and detailed. The only detractions are the relatively narrow range and the push-pull zoom design (which you do rapidly get used to). It should be basically looked at as a somewhat slower 50mm prime with a little extra range. The only reason why I ended up selling this lens was that for my uses in the ‘normal’ range, I need both low-light capabilities and extreme detail and clarity more often than I need the convenience of the zoom, so I found myself using the 50mm and ‘foot-zooming’. The 50mm f/1.8 is not a D-type lens, so matrix metering is not available with it, plus the construction is less precise (although the optics are superb) so I opted for the 50mm f/1.4D for my use.
Analyze your shooting style, and select lenses that make sense for you.
There are several situations in which I generally shoot. I walk a lot -- a minimum of 100-120 miles and sometimes as much as 180-200 miles per month. There are times when I am certain as to which focal lengths I will need, and other times when I may run into anything. Carrying the whole kit with me is simply not an option due to weight alone, so I have set up my kit in a way that allows me to carry a variety of focal lengths in several different ways depending on the situations in which I might find myself.
When I want to travel as light as possible, but still need to be able to shoot anything, I will carry the 24, 50, 105 and 180mm lenses. This allows me to shoot wide, normal, portrait and medium tele as well as low light and extreme close-focus and give up nothing in the way of quality, while still carrying a lens set that weighs 5 lbs in total -- just 1 lb. over the weight of the VR zoom by itself. The fact that the 24, 50 and 105 all use 52mm filters means that I can use the same polarizer or other filters on all three lenses also, which saves a lot of trouble and expense.
There are a number of situations when I need rapid compositional ability. The primary reason why I sold the 17mm Tokina is that I find myself in situations like this quite often, and switching back and forth between the 17, 24 and 50 in some of those cases is too time consuming (losing some shot opportunities), and in a few cases is undesirable (shooting in sand or dust conditions where a lens change is out of the question). In these situations, I carry the 17-35mm AFS. I sometimes will carry the 24mm along with the zoom for those times when I have to shoot into the sun or a bright light source as the prime is more resistant to flare and ghosting than the zoom. When weight is not an issue I will carry the 17-35, the 50 and the VR zoom. This three-lens set allows me to shoot 17mm to 400mm as well as in low light and is very versatile, but the lens set is bulky and heavy at 6.5 lbs.
When the shooting situation will require long lenses only, and there is a great possibility of having to shoot into deep shadow, I will carry both the 300mm + TC-14e and the VR zoom. The VR is a very versatile lens, but the AF speed is glacial even with the limiter on. This means that when shooting anything that requires fast acquisition or tracking, the AFS prime is the only real choice (e.g. using the VR for action or birds in flight is a crapshoot -- you are far more likely to get the shot if you prefocus to the general distance and use manual focus than if you use AF), but when the shot is into deep shadow or the light is otherwise marginal, the VR really can get the shot far more often. Shooting 1/200 at 400mm is nearly always possible hand-held with the VR, and 1/125 is clean more often than not. I have gotten clean shots at 1/13 sec. at 80mm with that lens too. Amazing. The 300mm f/4 AFS is a most exceptional lens -- very fast-focusing, great contrast and detailed. While it’s a little soft at f/4, by f/5.6 it is very, very good. With the TC-14e, the AFS speed is maintained and the lens is a 420mm f/5.6. With the AFS and the VR together, I can shoot action and reasonably low light, from 80-400 on the zoom and either 300mm or 420mm with the prime, and can hand-hold either lens, but the two together are quite expensive and together weigh nearly 8.5 lbs.
When I am going to be shooting only long, do not foresee needing extremely shallow depth of field, and want to travel as light as possible, I will carry the VR lens alone. The only limitations of this lens are the lack of focusing speed, the relatively small maximum aperture, and the 7.5 foot minimum focus distance, but in many cases these are not critical and the lens is xtremely convenient (plus the vibration reduction really does allow at least a two-stop shooting advantage).
In other situations, when I am shooting long and will need very shallow DOF, I carry both the 180mm and 300mm lenses. This adds a pound and a half, and requires that I switch lenses, but the incredible quality of the 180mm and the f/2.8 max. aperture makes it well worth it to me. The other thing is that both the 180mm and 300mm primes will focus down to 5 feet (4.75 feet for the 300mm) allowing the lenses to be used for some extremely dramatic closeup work.
Other shooting situations find me carrying a mixed complement of lenses. I attempt to draw on my experience shooting in different situations to allow me to choose the most efficient lens complement while carrying the least amount of weight. Over the course of a 10 mile hike at altitude, or even a 10 mile hike near sea level, keeping the weight down is a very good thing as I’m sure you know. Besides, you do sometimes have to carry food, water, and occasionally spare clothing so unless you like feeling like a pack mule (been there...), planning for weight is a necessity.
A Summary of my lens complement
Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8D AFS: A versatile wide-angle zoom that offers extremely fast focusing, focuses as close as 4” in front of the front element (under 11” from the film plane), is nearly as good as the 24mm prime lens except for the flare and ghosting issue, and at 35mm is definitely as good as the prime (although not as fast as the f/2 prime). The distortion at 17mm and 20mm is very low, especially for a zoom lens, and is essentially gone by 24mm. The only issues of note with this lens are the tendency to flare when shooting into a bright light source and the resulting green ghost, the size and weight, and the cost. Stopping down to f/5.6 results in extremely sharp images, and shooting without a filter reduces (but does not eliminate) the green ghost when shooting into the sun.
Nikkor 24mm f/2.8D: A very small, sharp lens with excellent contrast, low distortion, and at 9.5 oz. it is a featherweight that is easy to carry along anywhere. The perfect wide angle complement to the 50mm f/1.4D as it uses the same 52mm filters. The lens is nearly at optimum performance by f/4, and from f/5 to f/16 it is hard to find fault with it.
Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D: A very small (9 oz.), extremely sharp normal lens for low-light work and general photography. The perspective is natural, and detail is exceptional. The lens focuses down to 1.5 feet and is clean at f/2. By f/2.8, it is hard to find fault with the sharpness of the lens, making it ideal for low-light situations such as available light close-portrait, museums, etc. The lens is fairly resistant to flare, and is quite inexpensive. I wouldn’t be without one.
Nikkor 105mm f/2.8D Micro: Capable of 1:1 magnification without extension tubes or closeup lenses, the 105 Micro can handle everything from medium-length portrait work to in-your-face insect photography, while leaving a reasonable working distance between the subject and the camera (so it is possible to light the subject without the camera or lens occluding the light). The lens is very sharp -- for portrait work it is possibly too sharp in some cases, as every hair and blemish on a model’s face will be visible. For closeups of flowers, insects, and other close work it is hard to imagine a better lens... the 200mm is too hard to work with hand-held and the 60mm does not allow enough working space at 1:1 (although the 60mm is arguably the sharper lens). The only thing this lens does not do quite as well is work at infinity focus -- it is somewhat soft in comparison to closer work as it has of course been optimized for near-field focusing. I try to limit it’s use to under 25-30 feet for this reason.
Nikkor 180mm f/2.8D EDIF: Quite possibly the perfect medium telephoto lens. Very sharp from close-focus (5 ft.) to infinity, smooth defocused areas, excellent isolation of the subject at f/2.8 (where it is just slightly soft in comparison to performance at f/4 or smaller apertures), light, small and reasonably fast-focusing for a non-AFS telephoto. From f/5.6 to f/16 there is literally nothing to fault about the quality. From f/4 to f/5.6, you can detect a trace of softness when compared to the performance from f/5.6 on, but I have no qualms about using the lens at f/4. Shadow detail is very good, and corner-to-corner sharpness at infinity focus is amazing. I love this lens, especially for medium-distance portrait and for those times when I want to carry a light, fast telephoto.
Nikkor 300mm f/4 AFS: With its AFS motor, this lens locks on the subject quickly and tracks with precision. At 4lbs., it is not light, but it is able to be used hand-held and is a superb lens for action and other situations where rapid acquisition and tracking is necessary (e.g. catching a hummingbird in flight). It is a little soft at f/4, but stopping down to f/5.6 allows performance that is all I could ask for (and the loss of detail at f/4 is so slight that I have no qualms about shooting the lens wide open). Excellent contrast, smooth defocused areas (9-bladed aperture), and it focuses down to 4.75 feet for some truly amazing closeups. In combination with the TC-14e teleconverter, you have a 420mm f/5.6 lens with the AFS motor intact, and it is usable at f/5.6, although stopping down to f/8 gets the best performance out of the combination. The 300/4 has the A/M-M focusing switch, so you can do manual override with AF enabled for the best of both techniques. A fantastic lens... the only thing wrong with it is the tripod collar (which flexes) but by wedging minicell foam or other brace between the lens body and the top of the tripod mount that problem can be gotten around.
Nikkor 80-400 f/4.5-5.6 VR: Sporting VR (vibration reduction, Nikon’s image stabilization system), the PR literature claims that you can shoot three-stops under what you could normally shoot hand-held. At the shorter focal lengths this is most certainly true. I have gotten sharp 1/13 sec. exposures at 80mm, and at 1/8 sec. the yield is over 50%, which is truly amazing. By over 50% I mean that the shots are completely usable, and in many cases the shots are nearly as sharp as if I had taken them at 1/100 sec. If the lens was lighter (it weighs 4 lbs.) and had an AFS motor, it would be the perfect lens (just dreaming). You can certainly count on a stop-and-a-half at 400mm with nearly 100% yield, and the yield at two stops under the reciprocal of the focal length is quite good. Beyond that it’s a crapshoot. The optics are very good, although there is a little less contrast than the 300/4 prime and a little more tendency to flare. The convenience of being able to carry one lens that can shoot from 80mm to 400mm has to be experienced... it’s a great one-lens solution for telephoto. The only limitations are the slow AF (it has a locking MF/AF ring so it can be rapidly switched to MF, like the 105 Micro, without having to switch the camera), the lack of ability to do manual adjustments when AF is enabled (necessary when shooting through trees), the minimum focusing distance of 7.5 feet (not a problem at the longer lengths, but somewhat limiting at the 80mm end), and did I mention the slow AF? Positively glacial... but I’m spoiled by the speed of the AFS prime. It’s not bad for a mechanically focused zoom of this length.
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