As a nature-loving photographer, I aim to capture the image of nature with the greatest fidelity.

For this reason, I am concerned about the image quality provided by the lenses I use.

For over 30 years, I have wanted to know which Nikon prime lenses were the most efficient.

Below is a summary table of my tests concerning Nikon prime lenses.

Subjective evaluation of Nikon prime lenses - v1.2 April 2014 - © Richard Soberka -

Lens model Contr.
W. O.
W. O.
Vignetting Dist. Overall
AFD 20mm
f/2.8 D ED
(3 samps)
8 9 7 9 8 8 8.1 Compact lens, pleasant handling, fast mechanical autofocus.
Good contrast even at f/2.8!
Adequate resolution but could be better at the image edges.
Vignetting a bit too visible at large apertures, distortion a bit too strong for a prime lens!
Overall, very good optics, with only one superior: the AFS 17-35!
AFD 24mm
f/2.8 D ED
(2 samps)
7 9 6 8 7 9 7.6 For many, this lens is a benchmark (if not legendary!).
Its contrast is very good starting at f/4.0, resolution is always very good in the center of the image.
However, on the 2 models tested, one edge or the other of the image was always lacking sharpness, even at f/8.0 (slight variations in production quality).
Vignetting visible even at f/5.6 and exacerbated by a too small filter (52mm), distortion well corrected.
AF 28mm
(1 samp)
6 8 6 8 6 6 6.6 This older autofocus version is quite disappointing.
Indeed, its contrast is correct, the resolution in the center of the image is good, but the edges and corners really lack definition.
The worst being the vignetting and especially the distortion at an unacceptable level for a prime lens.
This lens was replaced in 1995 by a more efficient AFD model.
AF 35mm
(1 samp)
6 9 6 9 8 9 7.8 This lens is characterized by its maximum aperture of f/2.0.
At full aperture, contrast and definition are average.
By closing down just one stop to f/2.8, its performance in the center of the image becomes very good, surpassing lenses that only open to f/2.8.
However, it's necessary to stop down to f/8.0 to achieve good sharpness in the corners. Vignetting is only visible at full aperture, distortion is rather low.
AF 50mm
(3 samps)
5 10 6 10 9 10 8.3 The 50mm: the standard!
At f/1.8, contrast is somewhat low, but that's to be expected.
From f/2.8, contrast and resolution soar...
...reaching peaks around f/8.0.
Vignetting is only visible at f/1.8, distortion is nonexistent.
The least expensive and sharpest lens... such is the way of the 50mm!
AFD 60mm
f/2.8 micro
(2 samps)
7 10 8 10 10 10 9.1 Macro lens allowing 1:1 reproduction
(a 24x36 mm subject is fully framed in 24x36 format).
Only critique: at f/2.8 contrast is average, but as soon as you stop down one f-stop, image quality is at its best (at f/4.0 it surpasses the 50mm!).
At f/8.0, image sharpness is incredible, even in the corners!!!
Distortion and vignetting are nonexistent... the best!
AFD 85mm
(3 AFD samps
1 AF )
7 10 8 9 9 10 8.8 Quite a heavy lens, very fast autofocus but sometimes lacking in precision.
Average contrast at f/1.8... that's normal, from f/2.8, sharpness in the center of the image is fantastic! Around f/5.6 and f/8.0, resolution reaches peaks on the edges of the image, unlike the center where a slight diffraction reduces definition... too bad because, as a result, at f/8.0 a zoom AFD 80-200 f/2.8 offers better image coverage!
AF 180mm
(1 Ex)
9 10 8 9 9 9 8.8 A legendary telephoto lens... relatively compact and light (750g).
Extremely homogeneous image quality right from the full aperture.
Contrast and color purity are top-notch... yielding clear images.
Slight vignetting (only at f/2.8) and low distortion.
Compared to the 80-200 2.8 zoom at 180mm, it's better at f/2.8, but at f/8.0 the zoom slightly outperforms! (very slightly, in the center of the image).
AFS 300mm
(1 samp)
9 10 9 10 8 9 9.1 At full aperture, the image quality of this telephoto lens is fabulous
(almost as good at the edge of the image as at the center!).
Only a slight "bloom" is present, but it disappears at f/5.6, where the lens then offers breathtaking sharpness!
Vignetting is present at f/4.0, distortion is almost absent...
The only real flaw of this lens is its poorly designed tripod collar.
AIs 500mm
(1 samp)
5 5 8 8 7 9 7.0 This older lens from Nikon's "manual focus" (AIs) range is called "catadioptric" because it is built with 2 mirrors like a telescope!
As a result, it is quite light and compact for a 500mm: only 12cm!
It has no diaphragm, the only aperture is f/8.0 (actually closer to f/9.5). The image quality is quite disappointing, the definition is not bad but the images are gray due to lack of contrast.

Notes: Ratings are on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the best score.
("Contr. W. O." = Contrast at Wide Open, "Resol. W. O." = resolution at Wide Open; vignetting, distortion,...)

The overall image quality at a given focal length (Overall Qual.) is an arithmetic average of the 6 other values.

Test methodology:

• Film cameras: from 1995 to 2004 these lens tests were performed with different types of Nikon film bodies: three F90Xs, one F100, one F5, two F80s, and two F70s.
But one of the F90X bodies always served as a reference.

• Films: between 1995 and 2004, nearly all lenses were tested on both Kodak "Royal Gold 100" negative film and FujiFilm "Velvia" slide film; in total, nearly 80 rolls were used!!

• Digital cameras: from 2002, various digital SLR bodies were used in turn...
the first in "DX" format (Nikon D100, D70, D2X, D300s, D7000, D7100)
...and since 2007 "FX" bodies (D3, D700, D610, D800).

• Reference lens: a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens always served as the "reference" for each test

• Reference subjects for focal lengths of 12 to 50mm: it is an urban landscape, rich in details.
The shots were always taken on a sunny day.
The focus of the lenses was set to infinity, with the test camera mounted on a tripod.

• Reference subjects for focal lengths from 50 to 300mm: details of the above urban landscape and especially a test chart.
It is a road map fixed on a wall perfectly orthogonal to a few meters from the device. Autofocus and manual focus. Lighting by 2 complementary projectors, the camera being fixed on a tripod + a wedge for the lens.

• Examination of results in film (1995 - 2004): magnifying glass and microscope for slides and negatives, then paper print and again magnifying glass, then scanning at 4000 dpi and analysis on screen.

• Examination of digital results: processing of RAW (nef) files with Nikon Capture / Capture NX without any software sharpening or noise filtering, then generating 48-bit TIFF files..

• Examination of TIFF files with Photoshop at 200 or 300%

• Contrast assessment is the most subjective data; resolution, on the other hand, is more easily measurable.

• Geometric distortion is easily assessed by measuring on test charts.

• Vignetting is assessed on uniform shots - like a blue sky - but remains relatively subjective.

• These results are not scientific measurements - such as those obtained on an "MTF bench".

• However, they reflect the real use of lenses.

Also consult the table of Nikon zoom lens tests.