Friday, August 10, 2012

Are Prime Lenses Better Than Zoom Lenses? | Nikon 85mm f1.4G vs. Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii


VERSUS
Zoom vs Prime - which is better for landscape photography?  Are primes just for photo-snobs?  Is Zoom lens convenience the last resort of photographic couch potatoes?

These are questions for the ages  - I decided to pit two of Nikon's best lenses  ( 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii & Nikon 85mm f/1.4G) against each other in a field test death match. This is Chevy vs Ford, PC vs Mac, Coke vs Pepsi for nikonians. Let the fun commence....

When I purchased these two pieces of glassware I was less than stoked about the prospect of dropping $5,300NZ (seemingly about a year's wages at present) on two lenses.  I was especially freaked about my illogical decision to buy the 85mm f/1.4, as it seemingly made very little practical sense for landscape photography (which comprises the bulk of my work). So, now that my Nikon D800e is finally with me I decided to have a bit of a side by side shoot off between the big zoom and the porky prime just to see if there were any real image quality differences between the two lenses.

The results of my tests surprised me so much that I had to re-shoot them to ensure I hadn't buggered it up.  I don't want to spoil the rest of the review, so I won't elaborate - enjoy the review and be sure to share it around if you think it may be of interest to others. The fine print - all shots are:
  • Made on the Nikon D800e
  • Locked down on a Really Right Stuff BH55 ballhead & Benro tripod
  • 3 second mirror lockup delay
  • Aperture priority
  • All other camera settings remain the same between shots
  • Images straight through Adobe Camera Raw with no adjustments (except sharpening 25 to all shots)
  • 100% crops
  • focus set manually by Liveview on the grey willow tree in centre frame
  • if this methodology infuriates you in any way please go straight to here

Centre Sharpness

Sharpness Comparison : Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii v Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G - at f/2.8 - click image for full size

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 vs 85mm f/1.4G at f2.8 Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii vs 85mm f/1.4G - Centre Sharpness Comparison @ f/2.8

Sharpness Comparison : Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii v Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G - at f/5.6 - click image for full size

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii vs 85mm f/1.4G - Centre Sharpness Comparison @ f/5.6 Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii vs 85mm f/1.4G - Centre Sharpness Comparison @ f/5.6

Sharpness Comparison : Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii v Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G - at f/8 - click image for full size

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii vs 85mm f/1.4G - Centre Sharpness Comparison @ f/8
 Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii vs 85mm f/1.4G - Centre Sharpness Comparison @ f/8

Sharpness Comparison : Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii v Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G - at f/11 - click image for full size
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii vs 85mm f/1.4G - Centre Sharpness Comparison @ f/11

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii vs 85mm f/1.4G - Centre Sharpness Comparison @ f/11[/caption] f/11 notes: centre sharpness on the zoom really falls away at f/11 on the D800e while the 85mm still looks pretty good.  Diffraction really is something that you need to consider before paying the premium to purchase a D800e vs a D800 - any resolution gains that you may make on the D800e are rapidly eroded after f5.6.

Centre Sharpness Roundup

Frankly, there is not much to separate these two premium lenses when looking at the centre of frame in terms of landscape photography performance. Not many landscape images are made at f/2.8 where the nikon 85mm f1.8G trounces the zoom - not a surprise given that it is already stopped down two stops by this point. By f/5.6 results are so close that only a nit-picker would give a toss and by f/8 diffraction has equalised both lens's centre sharpness performance, with maybe a slight edge to the 85mm.  Where the game changes is in the final 30% of the frame heading towards the edges - take a gander at these comparisons.....

Edge Sharpness Tests >>>>

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