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Nikon D3X Lenses
Nikon D3X. enlarge. (same as D3, with an extra "x" painted on). This one came from Adorama; Ritz and Calumet are also great places. When you use these links to get yours, it helps me keep adding to this site. Thanks! Ken.
I've tried all these lenses and more on the D3X. These are the best lenses you can get for the D3X, which is very revealing of any optical design or manufacturing faults.
Luckily, for me writing these recommendations, there are no surprises. Lenses that work great on film and the D3 only work better on the D3X. Lenses that were only so-so look even worse.
These are recommendations based more on sharpness than on speed or expense. I presume with a D3X you're shooting landscapes for huge enlargement, and if you're shooting sports, that you'd be shooting the D3, for which I also have different Nikon D3 lens recommendations.
Here are some top recommendations from actual tests I've run. You can click the photos of each lens to get to its review, too.
The number of cameras displayed next to each heading is how well each lens holds up when looked at with a very careful eye when shot on the D3X, especially at large apertures. The D3X is a very picky camera because its super-high resolution makes it easy to see the limits of each lens' performance.
Most other zooms I mention elsewhere might only rate one star here, so don't expect these rating icons to match with the rest of my website.
Of course no one needs all these lenses at the same time. I'll suggest rational sets at the bottom.
It's always a better idea to spend money on lenses rather than on digital cameras. If you're willing to blow $8,000 on a D3X which will be depreciated down to $4,000 in a year, then you have no excuses not to spend $4,000 on a used 28mm f/1.4 if you need it, since it should still be worth that, or more, in five years. Don't skimp on your lenses: not only are they an investment, unlike a digital camera which is a liability, without great lenses, all the resolution of the D3X is wasted.
Circular Fisheye top
As expected, the 8mm f/2.8 fisheye works great on the D3X, giving us the world's highest resolution consumer digital 180º circular fisheye system. I know of nothing better, although I suspect NASA has rigged up something in the seven-figure range.
Performance at the periphery is weak at f/2.8, and improves greatly as stopped down. Performance best between f/11 and f/16.
Nikon stopped making these in 1997. Budget about $1,800 ~ $2,500 for a nice one.
Full-Frame Fisheye (rectangular image) top
The best full-frame fisheye is Canon's 15mm f/2.8. Nikon has nothing as good.
Nikon's 16mm f/2.8 AF is the best you can get for Nikon, but it's not great.
Nikon's original 16mm f/3.5 manual-focus is about as sharp as the current AF version, but forget it since it sells used for almost as much as a new AF f/2.8.
Since you don't have much choice, Nikon's 16mm f/2.8 AF is your best bet. It gives the best results at f/8 and f/11, otherwise the sides are softer.
Wide and Ultrawide top
Nikon's 14-24mm f/2.8 AF-S is the unchallenged class leader, and it works even better on the D3X.
This darn thing is sharper, especially in the corners at large apertures, than any other wide SLR lens I've ever used. The 17-35mm is a more practical lens for most uses, but if you're getting a D3X, you'll be happiest with the insane sharpness of the 14-24mm.
The 14-24mm lens is in a class by itself. It's fantastic on the D3X.
Fast Wide Angle top
As expected, Nikon's 28mm f/1.4D AF is unchallenged. Unfortunately, Nikon stopped making them in 2006 because no one was buying them at $1,800 a pop, new. That's why they now sell used for about $3,000 ~ $4,000.
It's sharp even wide-open at f/1.4, which is what makes it so spectacular. Stopped down, it's about the same as the 14-24mm zoom, so don't break into your kid's college fund to buy one unless you really need to shoot it at f/1.4.
Fast Normal top
It's not as sharp wide-open, and gets better as stopped down to about f/5.6.
Midrange Zoom top
Nikon's newest 24-70mm f/2.8 is their best midrange zoom yet, but still not as good as the fixed lenses mentioned here. At 24mm, the 14-24mm zoom is better in actual use.
Stop down a couple of stops for the best results on a D3X.
For daylight or with a tripod, any of the Micro lenses mentioned next is much better than the 24-70mm or either of the fixed 50mm f/1.4s if you're counting pixels.
Sharp Normal top
Nikon's sharpest midrange lenses are any of the 55mm f/2.8 and 60mm f/2.8 Micro lenses, auto or manual focus. I'd get the older 60mm f/2.8 AF-D micro instead of the newest 60mm f/2.8 AF-G. Heck, I'd get an ancient 55mm f/2.8 AF micro instead of the newest 60mm AFS just because its cheaper, and at least as good on the D3X.
They all are optically extraordinary, so get whichever feels better.
Short Tele top
I usually find Nikon's 85mm f/1.8 AF-D sharper in the corners than Nikon's 85mm f/1.4D AF. The f/1.4 AF needs to be stopped down a bunch to get the corners up to snuff (The manual focus 85mm f/1.4 AIS is better than the AF.) The f/1.4 AF is a newsman's and portrait lens, while the slower f/1.8 tends to be sharper in the corners, which probably concerns you if you're shooting a D3X.
None of these 85mm fixed lenses is as good as the 135mm mentioned next. There tends to be some sample variation in the f/1.8 AF lenses, too.
Nikon's Best Telephoto top
Nikon's 135mm f/2 DC is one of Nikon's sharpest lenses ever. It's also among the world's greatest portrait lenses.
You'd be doing yourself a favor if you used only this 135mm f/2 as your only tele on the D3X. It's that good.
I've not tried the 105mm f/2 DC, but I'd bet money that it's as good as this 135mm.
Fast Long Telephoto top
Nikon's 180mm f/2.8 AF-D is much sharper than Nikon's 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S VR if you're shooting landscapes and need the corners sharp. I've seen sample-to-sample variation in these; if you really need sharp at this focal length, get the 200mm f/4D AF Micro-NIKKOR.
Telephoto Zooms top
Depending on your budget for both dollars and weight, the current Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR is excellent.
The no-longer-available new 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-S, which sells for about $1,000 used, is Nikon's sharpest AF tele zoom, better than the current 70-200mm VR. The 70-200mm VR is a news and sports lens, not a landscape lens. This big 80-200 AFS is better if you're a tripod guy, as I suspect D3X users will be. If you're counting every pixel out to the corners, find a used 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-S.
None of these zooms is as good as the 105mm Micros, the 135mm DC or the 200mm AF Micro. The D3X has such high resolution that this becomes very obvious if you're looking for it in five-foot wide (150cm) prints. That's why I also suggest the 70-300mm VR: it's almost as good as any of the f/2.8 teles, and it weighs a lot less. If you really want to split pixels, skip any of these tele zooms: Nikon hasn't reached perfection yet.
Macro and Long Telephoto top
If you really want the sharpest possible tele lens, this is way better than the 80-200mm AFS and the 180mm f/2.8 AF-D.
This and the 135mm DC are flawless on a D3X, unlike anything else in the tele range.
Nikon's 105mm macros, both manual and auto focus from just about every decade, are also excellent, but not as uniformly excellent at every aperture as this 200mm f/4.
Longer Telephotos top
I haven't tried these on the D3X yet, but I can tell you to forget the 200-400mm zoom. The sample I tried had optical problems depending on the zoom setting visible even on a D3. It's OK for news and sports as intended, but probably not for you landscape guys counting every one of your 24,385,536 pixels.
Instead, get any of the fixed super-teles, like the 300mm f/2.8 VR, 400mm f/2.8 VR and 600mm f/4 VR, as they and their previous versions are all very close to optical perfection. I haven't tried them on the D3X as I have all the other lenses mentioned above, but everything tells us that the fixed super-teles will be much better choices for making 8-foot (2.5m) wide prints if you're going to stick your nose in them.
Rational Sets top
No one needs all these lenses all the time. I listed all these to cover just about everything you might ever want to do.
Here are some rational suggestions of what to take at any one time.
People Pictures top
Lots of other lenses work; these suggestions are presuming you want the absolute best technical quality available for the D3X.
You never need to carry every possible focal length. Nikon makes no really spectacular lenses between 24 and 50mm. If you insist, and many of you will, then go ahead and lug around the Nikon 24-70mm AFS.
Low Light top
The D3X only goes to ISO 6,400, which is enough for me to shoot hand-held under moonlight at f/1.4. ISO 6,400 is plenty if you get the right lens. ISO 25,600 is for weenies with slow f/2.8 zooms, and ISO 25,600 looks like crap today anyway.
Note that there is no good reason to buy the 24-70mm f/2.8 midrange zoom. Oddly hobby photographers have always thought "zoom" ever since the 1980s, which is fine for snapshots and action, but not really optimal if you're counting every pixel for mural-sized prints.
Ditch the D3X and bring a D700 and a 17-35mm or 50mm lens, or better, a D90, or better, a D40 and kit lens, or my personal favorite, just bring a Canon SD880 in your pocket and nothing else. I'm very serious: when I travel for fun, I won't haul anything heaver than a D40.
I'm serious: the less you bring, the better pictures you'll bring back. The guys who try to carry everything in a 50-pound (25 kg) backpack hate life, and are often too tired to ant to haul out the gear to shoot anything.
When you travel, carry only what you can fit in your pockets for instant access. If you're on a dedicated photo trip, use a photo vest loaded with pockets; don't carry a bag. Bags are only for storing gear, not to shoot out of.
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If I just saved you $3,800, or 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.
The biggest help is to use these links to Adorama, Amazon, B&H, Calumet, Ritz and J&R when you get your goodies. It costs you nothing and is a huge help. These places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.
Thanks for reading!