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Canon make L lenses for those who want extra special results. Do Nikon offer the same sort of thing..?
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They've not really pushed any marketing title on it, but it's generally regarded that any Nikon lens with a gold ring at the front is a winner.
However, it's not exclusively gold ring lenses that are excellent. For example, the DX format 17-55mm F/2.8 doesn't have a gold ring, but if you use DX, it's as good as any L lens. The "Holy Trinity" of 14-24mm; 24-70mm and 70-200mm F/2.8 lenses are favourites for most FX users.
If you want a taste of the very best lenses, research what works best on a D800E, as these will be the ones with class leading resolution. In my opinion, the 105mm Micro Nikkor represents the best quality you will find at a reasonably affordable price, but for quite a bit more, the 85mm F/1.4 is one of the finest short telephotos going, and probably the lens I'd most love to own and use on a daily basis. In my "if money was no object" category, I'd have the 200-400mm F/4.
Much as we all despise him, I have to agree with Ken Rockwell when he lists the best Nikon lenses because I've used nearly all those on his list.
Nikon doesn't seem to do many "bad lenses" and when they do, a much better Mk2 is quickly introduced. A couple of examples that spring to mind are the original 43-86 and the more recent 70-200VR, which was superb for DX but lacked to corner resolution for FX.
The 18-55 kit lens was already pretty good optically but the performance of the new VRII version is little short of fantastic: pity about the "non-professional" build quality.
With Nikon lenses, it's mainly the durability that gets better when you get to the "professional" category. Be very careful when buying the plastic-mount lenses second-hand.
Quote: Much as we all despise him,
I have always enjoyed Ken's musings. I wish he'd drop Nikon and switch to Olympus.
Apparently he's behind the photos for the D4s catalogue
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