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Center Sharpness Comparison
105mm Center Comparison (this page)
June 2008 More Nikon Reviews
Let's take thirty different fixed and zoom lenses and see which is the sharpest at 105mm. Easy! Just kidding: it took a long time to shoot them all in a way that I could figure out which files went with which lens and then another long time to format them all into this page to make the results visible. It all has to be shot at the same time before the light changes.
Many thanks to all of you who helped me assemble all these lenses at one place at one time so these can be compared fairly.
This is all shot on a Nikon D300, which has the same pixel pitch as the D3X. These results should apply just as well to the center of the D3X. Unfortunately I couldn't get hold of a real D3X, whose audio note recording function would greatly have simplified the note-taking required to correlate which lens to which files.
This is just like a traditional Greek wrestling match. Every competitor is butt naked and competing on the same ground. There are no handicaps to help the weak. Some of these lenses are just a few months old, while others are 40-year-old veterans.
Almost all of these lenses are very sharp. I'm doing stupid things to exaggerate the differences.
See Lens Sharpness for why none of this really matters.
I'm only showing a crop from a tiny central section of a DX image.
Full DX image. Red box shows crop area.
On a D3X, the crop will remain the same but the full image would be larger and cover more.
These images are all crops from 100% images shot at ISO 200 on my D300. The full images would be 43" (110cm) wide at this magnification. I never print this large; do you? On the D3X, the full images at this magnification would print five feet (1.5 meters) wide!
These are so highly magnified and made under such special conditions that I'm showing differences too minute to be significant for almost any sort of photography.
This stupid tree is 600 feet (200 meters) away, and even in the suckiest enlarged images below you still can see every leaf.
I only have three hands. Not all the exposures match, so please don't confuse a lighter or darker image with one that's less sharp.
Guide to the Lenses Compared top
I've tried to put similar lenses close to each other.
For the sake of my sanity and eyesight, I only included fixed 105mm lenses and dedicated tele zooms. I couldn't include general-purpose zooms that cover 105mm; there are just too many to be able to get this all shot at the same time. I tried to include lenses that will be considered directly against each other. A mid-range zoom is a different decision from a tele zoom.
I didn't have a 105mm f/2 DC lens handy. I haven't tried one yet, but seeing how its brother the 135mm f/2 DC is the sharpest 135mm lens ever made by Nikon, I suspect the 105mm f/2 DC is also the sharpest 105mm lens ever made by Nikon.
I've grouped the modern AF zooms at the top, followed by fixed 105mm AF and manual focus lenses, then the manual-focus zooms. I put the Vivitar and Tokina lenses at the bottom, just for organization's sake.
Links take you to my reviews of each. If there's no link, then I'm working on a review. Years are the date of each sample.
Some of these lenses, like the Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 AI-s and 50-300mm lenses, are very rare and you're not likely to come across them.
The 1968 105mm f/2.5 NIKKOR-P is an older 5 element, 3 group design made from 1950s rangefinder days through 1971. All the other 105mm f/2.5 lenses made from 1971 through 2005 are the same 5 element 4 group design.
The 50-135mm, 100-300mm and 75-150mm lenses were shot together a different day at the same hour, so the comparison doesn't really count.
The use of a natural target is intentional. Leaves have a fractal nature which means they have sharpness at all spatial frequencies at all magnifications in all axes. This makes sharpness obvious at every level and magnification and in any diection, and makes any smearing obvious.
Artificial objects, like buildings and classified ads, have sharp lines. Lines have detail only at some spatial frequencies (usually at odd-ordered harmonics) and only in some directions. Sure we can see differences in sharpness with these targets, but we can't see as much at the same time.
I put the camera on a tripod. Exposures were 1/500 at f/8, and 1/4,000 and faster at f/2.8 and larger.
At Maximum Aperture top
At f/8 top
Have you gone blind yet? What this shows me is that most lenses look alike. Some types are obviously worse and some are much better wide-open, but 90% of them look identical to each other shot at a normal apertures.
None of this really matters for serious photography. All of these can be used to create incredibly great photos. I used the very worst example, the Vivitar Series 1 wide-open, for the top guide image. It looks fine.
This also shows the futility of attempting to express technical image quality in precise numerical terms. Before your eyes gave out, I'm sure you noticed that even though many of the lenses look different in various ways, they were all about as good.
I'll let you judge for yourself.
As I expected, I can see some small differences wide open, but little to no difference at f/8. Wide-open sharpness doesn't matter in actual photography, since almost everything isn't in perfect focus with the limited depth-of-field.
There is much less difference among zooms than there is at 200mm, where some zooms get softer.
It's odd that the Nikon 105mm f/2.5 AI-s looks so bad at f/2.5. It may have been out of focus; the D300's manual focus dot isn't always precise enough. I'll have to look into this later. As I said at the top, I didn't have the time to baby-sit every lens to try to eke out its best performance. It had 10 seconds to perform and get out of the way for the next lens.
The Nikon 105mm f/1.8 AI-s also looks poor wide open, but remember that this lens is a stop faster than everything else here. Stopped down to f/2.5 it's much better. This is a race where each lens needs to perform at it's maximum aperture with no excuses. If a lens is going to tout speed, that's how it's going to get used here.
If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.
This page is free to read, but copyrighted. If you've gotten your gear through one of my links or helped otherwise, you're family, so feel free to make a printout of this page and images for your own comparisons.
If you haven't helped me and if you'd like permission to make prints for comparison (only), please help me with a gift of $5.00. I have to feed six mouths in addition to my own.
Not only does this stuff take a lot of time, creating it takes far more effort than looking at it. I almost went blind!
Thanks for reading!
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