Lens Survey and Subjective Evaluations

by Riccardo Polini

 

In the following notes I will briefly provide an overview of cameras and lenses I have used during the past two decades. My comments are purely subjective and come from experience and from my demanding character as well.

During my experience in the field as a Nature photographer, I have shot using lenses as different as a 28-70 amateur zoom and professional telephotos. I have had the opportunity to use tens of 35 mm lenses. Most of them were Nikkor lenses, although I did use - and sometimes still I do - Sigma, Tokina and Tamron lenses.

Often, when I show my slides to friends, most of questions are the same: "Which kind of film and lens did you use to shoot?". According to David Middleton (Outdoor Photographer, Sept. 1999 issue), the question that should be asked is "What were you thinking about while you were composing this photograph?"

A well-composed image will distinguish itself from ones that are not. Independently of the gear. Therefore, let's remember that our best lens is between our ears.

By the way, according to David Ruether, "poor lenses can be used to make fine photographs, but how much more fun is to use good lenses and not need to find ways around their shortcomings".

By clicking below, you can read more extensive subjective evaluations of several lenses and cameras (i.e. the ones in green characters).

For the curious, at present (2012) my mostly used lenses are: AFS ED 16-85 VR, Micro-Nikkor AF ED 200 mm f/4, Micro-Nikkor AFS 105/2.8 VR, and three  Zeiss lenses (namely, 21/2.8, 35/2 & 100/2).

 

SLR Cameras

 
Nikon F-301 My first Nikon! A good amateur camera with all you need to take pictures: a built-in winder, TTL  flash, manual, automatic and program modes. It can use 4 AA (instead of AAA) batteries with optional base-plate MB-3. My F-301 was stolen in 1996 (S/N 3305235).
Nikon F-601 A well-designed amateur camera with an integrated TTL flash and a lot of features (bracketing, slow-sync, rear-sync, etc.). Unfortunately, it needs CR-P2P Lithium batteries and the mirror/shutter system is rather vibrating.
Nikon F-801 A great camera! It does not permit spot metering (as F-801s does), nor fast AF operation. Before I bought the F100, it was my most used camera (with MF-21 multi control back and E-type focusing screen).
Nikon FM Excellent compact manual camera, which can work without batteries even at -40°C. Viewfinder is not as bright as those of the latest AF cameras. The shutter is a Copal CCS with a sync-speed of 1/125 sec., which was a state-of-the-art performance when the camera was introduced (1977).
Nikon F 100 I bought this camera together with the 80-400 VR zoom. It's a very good AF professional camera. AF is much faster than D100, even with "slow" lenses such as  80-400 VR.

Digital Cameras

 
Nikon Coolpix 4500 I entered the digital world in the second half of 2002 by adding this compact prosumer camera to my photographic stuff. The first pictures I took and printed did confirm what I read in valuable sites such as www.dpreview.com, i.e. that the 4500 is able to produce, together with its unbelievably small zoom lens, quality images, ranging from portraiture to landscape and close-ups.
Nikon Coolpix 5400 I swapped my 4500 for a 5400 in Oct. 2004. I appreciate the zoom range (equivalent to 28-116 mm), the compact design and the Mg alloy body. The first images I took with my camera showed a quite good quality of the ED zoom, although the macro capability of this  digital P&S cannot rival the outstanding macro performance of the Coolpix 4500. My sample, however, showed quite evident misalignement problems when the lens was set at the long end. The camera was shipped to Nikon Italy for service and after two months with no news from them, I had to contact them and ask: "Hi guys, are you sleeping?". They changed my sample with a new one. Anyway, I'd suggest Nikon to improve their quality control systems (and the velocity of their service) if they care about customer loyalty ,,,
Nikon Coolpix 8400  I swapped my 5400 for a Coolpix 8400 in 2006. I like the zoom range (equivalent to 24-85 mm) and the Mg alloy body. The quality of Raw images are quite good at 50 ISO and 100 ISO. I upsize the raw files to 30x45 cm (@ 300 dpi) TIF files and stock agencies accept them with no problem. Flash exposure with my SB-800 is very reliable.

I have used this camera extensively in Portugal. Click here to see the pictures.

Nikon D100 I bought a used D100 in the second half of 2003. It is an excellent DSLR, with a neutral color balance (I use Adobe RGB), probably not as brilliant as Fuji S2 Pro. However, I love the final rendition in portraiture. The automatic white balance works fine, the only exception being articial light (but you can manage it using manual WB). If you want to buy one, consider that Nikon Capture 3 and a second EN-EL3 battery are both necessary tools. And don't forget to buy at least two 1 Gb CF cards if you want to obtain the maximum quality from this camera by shooting NEF. 
Nikon D200  I bought my D200 in Oct. 2006. It's a very good camera with few drawbacks. First, AF is not at the same level as my F100, which has 5 (instead of just one!) cross-type sensors. Second, I cannot take more than 200 pictures per battery charge. This is not the best for a pro user. Last but not least, my camera (at around 400 ISO) exhibits occasional short banding in high contrast scenes. This is typical of the sensor design and to avoid this "effect" I set ISO 100 and use the tripod ... (owning a digital camera doesn't imply that you don't need anymore a  tripod or a pol filter!).

I don't like the slightly yellowish colour response in Adobe RGB Mode II (the color space I used with my D100). I prefer to use sRGB Mode III for landcape and nature photography; I set Adobe RGB Mode I for portraits.

Nikon D300 I swapped my D200 for a D300 in Dec. 2007. The D300 is a far better camera: better AF, better viewfinder, longer battery life, no banding (finally!), live-view (helpful for tripod work), better monitor (not so much important, IMO). However, the D300 has a slight tendency to

The picture styles (PS) I prefer are D2XModeI (sat -1) for portraits, Standard for street photography, Standard (sat +1) or D2XModeIII  for wildlife and Landscape for landscapes and some macro work. I shoot raw, so sometimes I change the PS in Nikon Capture NX2 (or by ACR). In-camera sharpening never exceeds +3 (it ranges from 0 to +9).

Nikon D700 Very good full-frame camera, which performs solidly. I prefer it over my D300 for landscape photography (I use Zeiss ZF.2 lenses for landscapes) and for low-light photography (obviously!).

Prime Lenses

 
Nikkor AIS 16 mm f/2.8 A very good fish-eye, with even sharpness from f/5.6 onwards and typical Nikkor color rendition. Very good behaviour in counterlight shots. It works fine with the TC-14A teleconverter.
Nikkor AIS 20 mm f/2.8 An excellent lightweight, but solidly built, wideangle.
Nikkor AF 20 mm f/2.8 Same optics as the MF version, but plasticky feeling. The D version shares the same optical scheme.
Zeiss ZF.2 Distagon T* 21 mm f/2.8 This lens is a gem. It's the second Zeiss lens I bought. Actually, I decided to buy a full-frame camera when I realized that very good ultra-wideangle lenses were available. And UWA prime lenses are made by Zeiss (well, they are designed by Zeiss and made by Cosina in Japan). I much prefer the 21/2.8 Distagon over the (excellent) Nikkor AF-S 14-24/2.8: the 21/2.8 is lighter, less bulky, and accepts filters. The Zeiss has sligth wavy distortion, which is visible sometimes. It has very visible corner light fall-off at f/2.8, which is of no concern from f/5.6 onwards. Sharpness is very high across the frame, even at full aperture. Color and contrast are outstanding. CA is well corrected.
Nikkor AIS 28 mm f/2.8 An excellent performer, with an interesting (and useful) close-up performance (0.2 m mimum focusing distance). It takes sharp 2X pictures when reversed with BR-2A ring.
Nikkor AIS 28 mm f/2 I love this lens! It has good quality wide open (better than 50/1.4 @ f/1.4), and excellent sharpness from f/2.8 onwards. It performs very well on my D300. It too works fine when reversed via BR-2A ring on my D300.
Zeiss ZF.2 Distagon T* 35 mm f/2 This is the third Zeiss lens I bought. It's a very good lens with slightly visible distortion and corner light fall-off at wider apertures. Like my other Zeiss lenses, the 35/2 is visibly better than my Nikkors insofar as color, contrast and 3-D drawing characteristics are concerned.
Nikon AIS 50 mm f/1.8 E A small, single-coated, cheap lens (I paid less than 45 Euro for a used sample in Mint conditions) with very good sharpness. However, contrast and color rendition are not as good as multicoated Nikkor lenses.
Nikkor AIS 50 mm f/1.8 (early type) A solidly built and very good lens from f/4 onwards. At f/2 my old AI 50/1.4 performs better. Color rendition and contrast are better than those of 50/1.8 E.
Nikkor AI 50 mm f/2 An optical gem ! I regret I sold it. What can I say more?
Nikkor AI 50 mm f/1.4 Soft wide open, usable at f/2 with good results, very sharp from f/2.8 onwards. My more than 20-year old sample still works fine on my D300.
Micro-Nikkor AIS 55 mm f/2.8 Excellent general purpose and macro lens, with outstanding sharpness, but needs PK-13 extension tube to reach life size (1:1). My sample (S/N 525241) was stolen in 1996 ...
Micro-Nikkor AF 60 mm f/2.8 D Excellent sharpness and contrast but soft borders at infinity and wider apertures: who cares? Some tests in magazines mentioned vignetting w/open; it's not true. It shines on digital bodies and I love using it for portraits (on DSLR it's equivalent to a 90 mm f/2.8 lens).
Micro-Nikkor PC 85 mm f/2.8 D Wonderful lens in every respect. Sharp even wide-open, with a wonderful bokeh. This is the perfect portrait lens, IMO. Set it wide-open and takes portraits. At close distances it performs as well as my AF ED 200/4, which is one of the best Micro-Nikkors ever produced. I like to use it for landscapes by shifting and then stitching three vertical frames. Set the aperture at f/11 and with a 12 Mpix APS-C camera you'll obtain 30 Mpix files with a lot of detail and with an angle of view comparable to the AOV of a 50 mm.

With the Canon 500D achromat you can reach 1:1.35 (0.74X) magnification at 32 cm (13 cm working distance). Image quality remains very good on APS-C (I didn't test on FF/FX).

Nikkor AF 85 mm f/1.8 D A very good lens, suitable for portraiture and landscape photography as well. Slightly sharper than the AI 105/2.5 at close focus and wider apertures. I have used it with the Nikon 5T close-up lens to take portraits of my 1-year old daughter. I got excellent results. However, this lens suffers ghosting and flare in critical situations. To see what I mean, click here. I sold it to buy the AF 85/1.4D.
Nikkor AF 85 mm f/1.4 D  Excellent lens, with good sharpness even @ f/1.4 (much better than my AI 50/1.4), and pleasant tonal response. Very sharp in the f/2.8-f/5.6 range. It's an excellent performer on D200. According to what I've read in the web, I'll never swap it for a Zeiss ZF 85/1.4. Did I say it? It's very sharp.
Tamron AF SP 90 mm f/2.8 Macro Excellent macro lens, but working distance is too short (a mere 10 cm at 1:1; check out 90Tamron.htm). It can be safely used also to take professional quality landscape pictures. Very good color rendition (much better than other Tamron lenses I've used). It works fine with the Nikon TC-14A teleconverter.
Zeiss ZF T* 100 mm f/2 Makro-Planar This was my first Zeiss lens.The very first images I took with this lens at f/2 really impressed me, and I decided to sell my AIS 105/1.8. I have no regrets. This lens outperforms every other lens of similar focal length I have ever used. And thid holds at all distances, from close-ups to landscapes. Similarly to other fast lenses which do not have a true apochromatic design, it suffers from axial color, i.e. purple and green fringes which can occur in out-of-focus planes at wider apertures. These fringes disappear by closing the aperture (the aberration is not visible from f/5.6 onwards) or can be corrected (sometimes) by Nikon's proprietary RAW converter (Capture NX2).
My suggestion: buy it and use it as much as you can.
Nikkor AIS 105 mm f/1.8 IMO, this lens is better than the AIS 105/2.5 I owned in the past. Slightly soft wide open with low contrast (probably due to residual spherical aberration), lens performance improves @ f/2.8 and becomes excellent @ f/4. Bokeh is beatiful. Not as contrasty at wider apertures as 105 Micro-Nikkors, but this is an additional bonus.
Nikkor AIS 105 mm f/2.5 Very sharp at infinity and wide-open, sharpness decreases at close focus and wider apertures.
Micro-Nikkor AIS 105 mm f/4 Very nice performance in close-ups. However, the best performance is at 1:10 reproduction ratio. As a matter of fact, the sharpness at around 1 m focusing distance is simply "terrific". I did not use it so much at infinity, so I can't comment on its performance in landscape photography.

My sample (S/N 251301) was stolen in 1996 ...

Micro-Nikkor AIS 105 mm f/2.8 A very good macro lens with excellent performance at infinity. Similarly to the AIS 105/4, it requires a PN-11 ext. tube to get magnifications in the 0.5-1 X range. However, at such high magnifications, sharpness slightly decreases. It works fine with TC-14A.
Micro-Nikkor AF 105 mm f/2.8 I do not understand why Popular Photography magazine rated low the D-version of this lens. My sample (which has the same optics as the AF-D lens) is excellent at all apertures and in the whole focusing range. It works well with the TC-14A from f/5.6 onwards.
Micro-Nikkor AF-S 105 mm f/2.8 G VR This lens has an excellent performance in the whole focusing range. I swapped my AF version for this one because the VR allows to use it as medium telephoto also in available light and for people photography as well. However, wide open the lens shows visible corner light fall-off on 35 mm film. On a digital DX body, light fall-off is less visible, but still present and detectable in portraits (you can correct it in post-processing). Bokeh is very nice, much better than the previous AF/AFD version. I tested it at infinity vs my AIS 105/1.8. The apertures I tested were in the f/2.8-f/11 range. On the focus plane the 105 VR was almost as good as the 105/1.8. However, the MF lens was sigificantly befter in the DOF zone. I've used my 105 VR with the TC 14E for larger than 1:1 macro pictures. Both sharpness and contrast decreased. Chromatic aberration increased. 
Sigma AF EX 105 mm f/2.8 Macro I took few pictures with that lens, but I was impressed by the very good quality, even at f/2.8. However, the build quality does not match that of the AF Micro-Nikkor 105/2.8. 
Nikkor AIS 180 mm f/2.8 D Another Nikon legend, with peak quality at f/5.6-8. The AF version is sharper than this MF version at close focus. Maximum aperture is slightly darker than f/2.8 (around f/3.6, according to a test published in the Oct. 1983 issue of the Italian magazine "Tutti Fotografi").
Nikkor AF ED 180 mm f/2.8 N The sharpest 180 mm lens ever produced by Nikon. It outperforms the MF model, namely at wider apertures and close focus. It takes good 1:2 close-up pictures with the Canon 500 D diopter.
AF Sigma 180 mm f/3.5 EX Apo Macro A very sharp 180 mm lens, able to produce professional quality close-up pictures. It has a slightly warmer colour rendition than my AF ED Micro-Nikkor 200/4 and it is also more prone to flare in counterlight shots. Contrast also is slightly lower than Micro-Nikkors, probably duo to different coatings of the glass elements. In conclusion a highly recommended lens for nature photographers that need a 180-200 macro lens and have a limited budget.
Nikkor AIS 200 mm f/4 A very sharp lens, even at f/4, where slight corner light fall-off is visible. It works fine with Nikon achromatic diopters (3T and 4T) and with reversed lenses (check out 200.html).
Micro-Nikkor AI 200 mm f/4 IF Great lens, which allows to take 1:2 pictures at 71 cm from the subject. However, the elements in the front group have some tendency to get the multicoating layers attacked by humidity and/or fungi. This fact should not affect image quality, but causes a deep decrease of the lens value in the second-hand market. When coupled to a TC-301 teleconverter, image quality decreases. To get 1X pictures I'd prefer an unobtrusive 4T close-up lens. 

My sample (S/N 180112) was stolen in 1996 ...

Micro-Nikkor AF ED 200 mm f/4 D Beautiful AF lens, with a very well built focusing ring, and which allows to take 1:1 pictures at 50 cm from the subject (= excellent perspective, with uniform backgrounds). AF is slow, but I always use MF for close-up pictures, so I wouldn't consider AF speed as a drawback of the lens. Very sharp also at infinity and at full aperture. An excellent lens.
Sigma AF 300 mm f/4 D Apo Macro A very good lens, with excellent performance at close distances. At the minimum focusing distance (1.2 m, 1:3) the focal length is around 200 mm. Good flare resistance, distorsion and vignetting are negligible.
Nikkor AIS 300 mm f/4.5 A nice lens, with decent performance.
Nikkor AF ED 300 mm f/4 IF Nice colour rendition, very good sharpness, but not outstanding. Better contrast than the AF Sigma 300/4 Apo Macro. Slightly visible corner light fall-off at f/4. It can be safely used with Nikon TC-14B teleconverter to take good quality images.

My sample (S/N 233294) was stolen in 1996 ...

Nikkor AF-S ED 300 mm f/4 D A very good lens, with silent (but not so fast) AF operation. W/open, image quality is very good. At f/5.6 sharpness increases; at f/8 or f/11 only depth-of-field increases. Image quality is almost independent of focusing distance. It works fine with PK extension tubes and 1.4 X TC as well (I've used the TC-14 B). You can use it with a Canon 500 D attachment lens and take close-up pictures with magnifications in the range 0.58-0.91 X (1:1.7 - 1:1.1). 
Tokina AF ATX 400 mm f/5.6 SD Acceptable performance at f/5.6. Sharpness increases at f/8.  Slightly visible vignetting w/open. Very low distorsion. Warmer colour rendition than Nikkor lenses.
Tamron SP 400 mm f/4 LD Good performance w/open. Excellent performance when stopped down. It works better with Nikon TC-14B than with the supplied Tamron 1.4X teleconverter.

Zoom Lenses

 
Nikkor AF-S ED 12-24 mm f/4 G  The equivalent 18-35 mm wideangle zoom for APS-C sensors. According to Thom Hogan and Bjørn Rørslett this lens should work, in the 18-24 mm range, also on 35 mm cameras, and with satisfactory/good results. I compared its performance to my AF ED 18-35 mm f/3.4-4.5 on my D100. First, I compared the sharpness in the common focal length range (18-24 mm). The cheaper, amateur 18-35 mm zoom delivered quite better results at full aperture, and slightly better results af f/8-f/11apertures. The 12-24 exhibited a much better correction of the distorsion. However, barrel distorsion was visible at 12 mm (check here to learn how to correct distorsion by software). In conclusion, a good lens, that is too much expensive for the sharpness levels it is able to provide.

I have performed a comparative test with my trusty AF ED 18-35 mm f/3.5-4.5D. I compared the lenses using both DSLR and film. The results are reported here.

Nikkor AF-S ED 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 G VR  This compact "all-purpose" zoom is a little gem. It's my preferred lens for travel photography and since I bought it I have not used any more my trusty 18-35. This 16-85 has a perfect range plus VR, which helps a lot. When I use the lens, I set my D300 on Auto ISO mode.

I understand now why some reviewers in the web stated that this is the best DX Nikkor lens. It has a quality comparable to (or even better than) my 18-35 (on DX), similar speed, more range and VR.

Nikkor AF ED 18-35 mm f/3.5-4.5 D A nice, lightweight and sharp lens with a very high perfomance/price ratio. Highly recommended as travel wideangle zoom. Distorsion is visible at 18-24 mm. Above 24 mm, distorsion and vignetting are well corrected. Flare and ghosting are surprisingly low. A relatively cheap lens capable to deliver professional quality results. As stated by Thom Hogan, it shines on a digital body. In fact, it is as sharp as (or even sharper than) the AFS DX 12-24/4 G (the complete comparative tests with my AFS DX 12-24/4 G are reported here).
Nikkor AF 20-35 mm f/2.8 D An expensive wideangle zoom, with wonderful colour rendition (better than my AF ED 18-35) and excellent sharpness in the middle of the frame. Slightly visible distorsion at 20 mm.
Tamron AF SP 20-40 mm f/2.7-3.5 Solid build quality and excellent sharpness. However, colour rendition with Fujichrome films (the ones I mostly use) does not match the image clarity of Nikkor lenses.
Sigma AF 21-35 mm f/3.5-4.2 This sharp and solidly built lens was introduced in 1990. It has a fixed, built-in hood, necessary to reduce flare and ghosting. However, due to the complex optical scheme (12 lenses in 12 groups), this lens is not the best tool for shooting into the sun .
Nikkor AIS 25-50 mm f/4 A wonderful lens, with no distorsion. It can produce landscape images of biting clarity.
Tamron 28-70 mm f/3.5-4.5 An amateur zoom with disappointing vignetting and distorsion below 35 mm. Performance at the long end is slightly better. I took decent macro pictures (at around 1:2) with the lens set at 70 mm and a PK-13 (27.5 mm) extension tube.
Nikkor AF 28-70 mm f/3.5-4.5 Marketed in 1991, it was the first Nikkor with a new  hybrid aspherical element. With just eight elements it delivers a good performance, but the optical quality is not impressive. "Normal" (not slim) third party pol filters give rise to visible vignetting in the corners at 28 mm. However, it's an astonishingly compact, lightweight lens for travel photography. The D-version was introduced one year later and had the same optical scheme.
Nikkor AF 28-85 mm f/3.5-4.5 An honest performer, with visible barrel distorsion at 28 mm. I'd prefer the 200 grams lighter AF 28-70/3.5-4.5 D for travel photography.
Nikkor AF 35-70 mm f/2.8 A truly professional lens, but limited range.
Nikkor AF 35-70 mm f/3.3-4.5 Cheap, unobtrusive and good performer @ f/8-f/11. If performs extremely well @ 70 mm and close focus. Barrel distorsion at 35 mm. It can be used as a real "macro" zoom to take pictures with magnifications in the 0.4-2.4 X interval. In fact, great results can be achieved when reversed with a 4T close-up lens
Tamron SP 60-300 mm f/3.8-5.4 A good zoom, with a decent performance even at 300 mm and w/open. However, the "true" maximum aperture at the long end is around f/6. Visible vignetting w/open. Macro setting (1:1.5) is available only at 60mm, which is not suitable for shy subjects due to the very short working distance.
Tamron AF SP 70-210 mm f/2.8 LD A very sharp lens, even better in the corners than the AF Nikkor ED 80-200/2.8 D. However, colour rendition was disappointing. I do not understand why people at Tamron Co. cannot produce professional zooms with decent colour rendition.
Tamron SP 70-210 mm f/3.5 A sharp zoom with typical Tamron colour rendition. Minimum focusing distance is 0.85 m (1:2.6 reproduction ratio).
Nikkor AF 70-210 mm f/4-5.6 D A compact, lightweight lens, probably better than other third party zooms sharing the same focal length range and aperture.
Micro-Nikkor ED 70-180 mm f/4.5-5.6 The most versatile tool for macrophotography. It's a great lens for taking flowers' pictures. It reaches 0.75 X and at such magnification it outperforms the AIS 105/2.8 + PN-11 combo. To get life size pictures, a Nikon 6T close-up lens is necessary. Working distance is comparable to or slightly shorter than AF Micro 105/2.8. Therefore, for insect photography in the field I prefer a lighter 105/2.8, sometimes coupled to a 1.4X TC for larger working distances or magniifcations (up to 1.4X).
Nikkor AF ED 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 D Is there any ED glass element inside it? A plasticky amateur zoom (made by Tamron?) whose performance at the long end is disappointing! Worse than the previous AF 75-300/4.5-5.6. I didn't like this lens and returned it to the dealer after a couple of days!
Nikon AIS 75-150 mm f/3.5 E A nice, sharp and compact telephoto zoom. It can focus down to 1 m. It works fine with 3T and 4T Nikon close-up lenses. Wide open, a slightly visible ligh fall-off is visible.
Nikkor AF 75-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 A good zoom, with a useful tripod collar. I took very sharp close-up pictures of insects with that lens and a Nikon 5T diopter. I liked it much more than the AF ED 70-300/4-5.6D.
Nikkor AF ED 80-200 mm f/2.8 D A professional tool. Visible vignetting at the long end at f/2.8 & f/4. At wider apertures, the AF ED 180/2.8 exhibits a better performance (namely less ligh fall-off & distorsion, and a more even sharpness).
Nikkor AIS 80-200 mm f/4 An overall good zoom, it's a great performer at close distances. Excellent correction of both distorsion and vignetting.
Nikkor AIS 80-200 mm f/4.5 A good lens, but the faster f/4 and f/2.8 models exhibit a better performance. Minimum focusing distance is a mere 1.8 m. Annoying!
Nikkor AF ED 80-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 VR  The first Nikkor with an image stabilization system. However, AF is slow due to the absence of a Silent Wave motor. Image quality is good, but does not match the high standard of the 80-200/2.8. Wide-open, borders (on full-frame) are softer than center in the whole FL range. Sharpness is more even @ f/11. Anyway, center sharpness is very good, even at close focus (2.3 m). VR works, but you need to learn how to use it for better results.

It works surprisingly well on DX Nikon DSLR. I have also used this zoom coupled to a Canon 500 D close-up lens and I obtained very good close-up pictures in the field. Since I bougth this zoom, I've taken 95 % of my images with just three lenses (AF 18-35, 60 Micro & 80-400 VR). Today, it's the best complement to my AF-S 16-85 VR.

Tokina AF ATX 100-300 mm f/4 II SD A great lens if you don't need f/2.8. When I saw the first slides produced by it, I sold my AF ED 80-200/2.8 D. With TC-14B teleconverter it performs much better than the AF 80-200/2.8. Good performance with the Canon 500D close-up lens.

Teleconverters

 
Nikon TC-14 A (1.4 X) Good performance with shorter Nikkors (< 200 mm), but usually the lens must be stopped down (2 stops) to achieve the best results.
Nikon TC-14 E II (1.4 X) A good teleconverter specifically designed for long telephoto lenses. However, I use it only with AF-S Micro-Nikkor 105/2.8G VR either to get larger than 1:1 magnifications or to increase slightly the working distance. The combo shows more visible color fringing than the naked 105/2.8; anyway, the performance is good at medium apertures. I can't comment about the TC's performance on long telephoto lenses.
Nikon TC-14 B (1.4 X) A very nice, but expensive, teleconverter to be used with lenses longer than 200 mm (300 mm or more) or with the AI Micro-Nikkor 200/4 IF. It works rather well with the AF Tokina ATX 100-300 mm f/4. I used it with my AF-S ED 300 mm f/4 with excellent results.
Nikon TC-300 (2 X) This is the AI version of the currently available TC-301 (AIS). I used it with the AF 300/4 IF-ED and the AI Micro-Nikkor 200/4 IF. The optical performance was not so good; anyway, sometimes it is preferable to get a lower resolution picture rather than no image!