Sharpness test of Nikon 180mm f2.8 AF lens

We tested a recently purchased Nikon 180mm f2.8 lens for sharpness.

The D200 camera settings were:
JPG-Fine, manual, Exposure Comp +0.0EV, ISO 100, WB Sun, AF-S, all images auto-focus, color mode Ia, Tone comp: Normal, Hue adjustment: 0 deg, Saturation: normal, sharpening: +1, JPG Compression: Optimal Quality, NR Off, shutter speed between 1/2000th and 1/30th seconds dependent on aperture. The tripod is a Bogen 3051 with a heavy pan/tilt head – a beast.

The sample images were a 498×312 pixel sample of the image where the green square is. The corner 493×322 pixel sample was taken from the blue square area from the f8 test image. All of the 1:1 images received +1 in-camera sharpening and -nothing- in photoshop. The full frame f2.8 image was resized and basic CS3->FILTER->SHARPEN was applied. That’s it. Each file sample was saved with Save For Web with quality at Medium(51). It only seems to take the lightest touch to get amazingly sharp images out of this lens.

180mm sample
D200, ISO 100, 1/40, f8, Daylight WB, JPG capture straight out of camera,
sharpen +1 in camera, no PS applied
Focus point on center license plate, about 0.2mi/0.3km away.
It looks like my focus is off a touch, just a bit closer than the intended target.

180mm full frame
Nikon 180mm f2.8, D200, full frame test image with sample areas

180mm corner @ f8
Lower left corner sample area, f8

Center sample, Nikon 180mm, f2.8, 1/2000th


Center sample, Nikon 180mm, f4, 1/1000th


Center sample, Nikon 180mm, f5.6, 1/500th


Center sample, Nikon 180mm, f8, 1/250th


Center sample, Nikon 180mm, f11, 1/125th


Center sample, Nikon 180mm, f16, 1/60th


Center sample, Nikon 180mm, f22, 1/30th
When I first pulled up the unsharpened f2.8 images, I thought wow, those are amazingly sharp. Pixel peeping is always a fun but ridiculous test to perform. That’s why we all do it. The Nikon 180mm f2.8 was already performing admirably. Then, clicking through the other samples, there was detail present that I only have seen with my Nikon 85mm f1.4 at f8. The crinkles in the cinder block mortar are visible.

A Youtube video of oft-complained about focus speed of the Nikon 180mm f2.8:

These aren’t terribly scientific tests, as JPG compression can alter the images slightly. Doing this test with RAW and converting over would have been more accurate. Since I shoot primarily JPG for general media, my real test was to see what I would get without any more effort. The quality is stunning for a quick test. Anything more for me would have required an optics bench and $20,000 in equipment. And then I would only know MTF and other information that doesn’t translate into me getting images my clients want.

After handling the lens for just an hour, I can’t wait to get it in the field and get some use out of it.

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