Zoom vs Prime – which is better for landscape photography? 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….
If you have read my nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VRii user review and my nikkor 85mm f/1.4G user review you will know that I was less than stoked about the prospect of dropping $5,300NZ (Pacific Pesos) on two lenses. I was especially freaked about my impulse decision to buy the 85mm f1.4, as it seemingly made very little practical sense for landscape photography (which comprises the bulk of my work).
So, now that the D800e is finally with me I decided to have a bit of a side by side shoot off between the big zoom and the rotund prime just to see if there were any noticeable differences between the two.
To be honest, I have always viewed prime lenses as somewhat of a throwback and a pain in the butt – the convenience of zoom lenses has always won out for me. I was hoping that the results of my tests would validate my impulses to fill my bag with convenient zooms.
Frankly, the results of my testing freaked me so much that I had to re-shoot them to make sure I hadn’t messed it up somehow. 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
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
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
Sharpness Comparison : Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii v Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G – at f/8 – click image for full size
Sharpness Comparison : Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRii v Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G – at f/11 – click image for full size
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…..