Which Nikon lenses work well for infrared photography?
I have recently started using a Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera for infrared photography along with my colleague and Image Doctors podcast co-hos, Rick Walker. We tested our collection of Nikon lenses to see how they perform on infrared cameras. Primarily, we looked to see if there were significant hotspots (discrete, bright areas) produced by our lenses, which typically would render a lens unusable for infrared photography. Our combined results are shown below.
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IR Performance: Nikon Z-Mount Lenses
We tested the following native Nikon Z-mount lenses with a Nikon Z6 converted to capture 720nm “standard” infrared images. Results with other wavelengths may vary.
|14-24mm f/2.8S||Poor||Hotspots throughout the zoom range, especially above f/5.6|
|14-30mm f/4 S||Very Good||Mild brightness in image center at f/11 and higher; excellent corner sharpness. Performance is very good at longer focal lengths.|
|17-35mm f/2.8||Very Good||Very mild center brightness when stopped down to f/11 at the wide end; excellent performance at the long end through f/11|
|20mm f/1.8 S||Good||Very good through f/8; mild hotspot at f/11 and above. Thanks to reader Mick Klass for the review!|
|24-200mm f/4-6.3||Poor||Hotspots throughout the zoom range regardless of aperture.|
|24-50mm f/4-6.3||Fair||Areas of diffuse brightness in center of frame when stopped down|
|24-70 f/2.8 S||Poor||Significant center brightness and hotspots at f/8 and above.|
|24-70mm f/4 S||Good||Mild brightness in center at f/11 and higher; more pronounced at 24mm|
|24-120mm f/4 S||Variable||Significant hotspot at focal lengths less than 50mm, good performance at the longer focal lengths.|
|24mm f/1.8 S||Excellent||No discernible hotspots|
|28mm f/2.8||Fair||Noticeable hotspot starting at f/5.6; loss of sharpness at image edges|
|28-75mm f/2.8||Excellent||Excellent performance through f/11 (720nm)|
|35mm f/1.8 S||Very Good||Mild center brightness with IR reflective subjects (720nm)|
|40mm f/2||Very Good||Mild center brightness with IR reflective subjects|
|50mm f/1.8 S||Excellent||No discernible hotspots|
|50mm f/1.2 S||Poor||Strong hotspots at all apertures above f/1.2|
|50mm MC f/2.8 Macro||Fair||Significant hotspot at f/8 and above|
|105mm MC f/2.8 VR S||Fair||Significant hotspot at f/8 and above|
|70-200mm f/2.8 S||Poor||Hotspots throughout the zoom range|
|85mm f/1.8 S||Poor||Significant hotspots at f/4 and higher|
|100-400 f/4.5-5.6 VR S||Very Good||No noticeable hotspots detected|
|16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 (DX format)||Poor||Significant hotspots at f/8 and higher|
|18-140mm f/3.5-6.3 VR (DX format)||Good||Diffuse center brightening at times, but manageable|
|50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 (DX format)||Good||Good performance across the focal range through f/11|
|Samyang 14mm f/2.8||Fair||Extreme loss of corner sharpness even when stopped down|
|TTArtisan 11mm f/2.8 fisheye||Poor||Significant hotspots at any aperture|
Conclusions: Z-mount Nikon lenses
If you are using a Nikon Z6 or Z7 body for infrared capture, the 24/35/50mm prime lenses deliver excellent performance. The 14-30mm f/4 is an excellent choice for wide-angle work, as it is very sharp in the corners of the frame, but it does exhibit some mild brightening when stopped down past f/11.
The 24-70mm f/4 is also a good all-around zoom lens, although it weaker than the 14-30mm f/4 when shooting wide. Given that this is the “kit” lens for the Nikon Z6/Z7 cameras, it’s nice to know that it works well with infrared photography.
Avoid the 85mm f/1.8 S, 24-200 f/4-6.3, and 24-70 f/2.8 S lenses, as they produce pronounced hotspots at any aperture. For longer focal lengths, you’ll probably want to consider an F-mount lens and the Nikon FTZ mount adapter.
The Nikon Z50 is a DX format mirrorless camera, so we tested both of the native Z-mount DX lenses. The 16-50mm Z-mount lens was disappointing as it produced very nasty hotspots across the entire zoom range. The 50-250mm telephoto zoom, on the other hand, performed well. If you’re considering converting a Nikon Z50 to infrared, you’ll need to use F-mount lenses with the FTZ adapter if you want a “standard” zoom lens.
IR Performance: Nikon F-Mount Lenses via FTZ Adapter
You can easily mount Nikon F-mount lenses on a Nikon Z camera by using Nikon’s FTZ mount adapter. With AFS/G type Nikkor lenses, autofocus is retained. For AF-D Nikkor lenses, you will have to use manual focus. With the Nikon Z6 & Z7, you’ll gain the advantage of in-body image stabilization with non-VR Nikkor lenses.
|10-20mm F/4.5-5.6 AF-P DX||Good||Good at all focal lengths through f/11 (DX format)|
|16mm f/2.8 AFD Fisheye||Excellent||No discernible hotspots through f/11; requires manual focus|
|14-24mm f/2.8 AFS G||Excellent||No discernible hotspots across the zoom range at any aperture|
|20mm f/1.8 G||Good||Hotspot at f/11 and higher|
|35mm f/1.8 G||Excellent||No discernible hotspots|
|50mm f/1.8 G||Good||Mild hotspot above f/8|
|85mm f/1.8 G||Good||Hotspot at f/11 and higher|
|24-70 f/2.8 VR||Poor||Hotspots at all apertures|
|24-70mm f/2.8 G||Poor||Hotspots at all apertures|
|24-120mm f/4 G VR||Good||Slight brightness in center at f/11 and higher|
|24-85 f/3.5-4.5 G VR||Fair||Mild bright area in center of the frame above f/8, significant hue shift compared to other lenses|
|70-200 f/4 G VR||Exellent||Good performance across the focal range at any aperture|
|70-200mm f/2.8 FL-E AFS||Poor||Hotspots at all focal lengths at f/5.6 and up|
|70-300mm f/4-5.6 AF-P||Excellent||Good performance across the focal range through f/11|
|80-400mm f/4.5-5.6||Excellent||Good performance across the zoom range|
|300mm f/4E PF VR||Good||Mild hotspot above f/8|
|500mm f/5.6E PF VR||Excellent||No hotspots at any aperture|
Conclusions: F-mount Nikon lenses
Most of the F-mount Nikkor lenses we tried worked very well with infrared, especially the 14-24mm f/2.8 G zoom and the 35mm f/1.8G prime. The 24-120mm f/4 G VR is a good choice for all-purpose infrared shooting as both of the 24-70mm zooms produced pronounced hotspots. If you need a telephoto zoom lens, choose the 70-200mm f/4 AFS G VR or the newer 70-300mm f/4-5.6 AF-P Nikkor. Both of those lenses work well with infrared cameras.
The 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 DX Nikkor is an excellent performer, and should work well on an infrared converted Nikon Z50 as a 14-30mm equivalent. The size advantage of the Nikon Z50 would be negated somewhat by the need to use the FTZ mount adapter.